Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Fetch the Bolt Cutters, Fiona Apple’s first album in eight years, feels pent up.

You can hear it in the chorus of the title track.

You can hear it in Shameika’s buoyant beat and whiplash lyrics that reach back to her childhood to work out the bullying she encountered at school.

And you can hear it in the stories she tells – hers and those of others – that have shaped the #MeToo movement.

That said, Fetch the Bolt Cutters couldn’t feel more of the moment.

An album articulating societal pandemics for our pandemic times recorded entirely at home with little embellishments that are the equivalent of your cat jumping into frame during a Zoom meeting.

In that way, it is a bracing work, and one that COVD-19 has made it possible to really spend time with, having shut down society in so many ways.

Even so, I suspect I’d be sitting with it quite a bit under any circumstances.

Although Fetch the Bolt Cutters plays, at times, like a catharsis, it is surprisingly bouncy and energetic.

In an interview with Vulture, Apple noted that walking and hiking have been constants in her life, not just for rumination but also for her craft.

And you can really hear that here.

Songs wind like mountain paths.

It’s all somewhat bumptious, but once you find your footing, the album is forgiving, in part because her melodic sense is still strong.

Listen close enough and you can still hear echoes of early work like Shadowboxer, a song that suggested she could be a torch singer for our times.

But that torch is being wielded here in a different way.

Apple is shining a light on lovers real and imaginary, the ways we hold ourselves – and others – back, and the way that men pit women against each other, or just destroy them through manipulation and violence.

It should feel claustrophobic, but it isn’t.

In part because the music is so kinetic, so elastic, so restless.

But also because Apple sounds like she is in a good place after troubled times.

Every song, every line, feels like hard-won wisdom.

A testimony of survival.

All of it suffused with a sense of adventure and playfulness.

That comes through in the last song, when she not only shrugs off an error but announces she moves not to prove anything but just for the sheer joy that she can move.

It’s a notice that she is living on her terms, something that comes through in every note and word.

In that way, it feels healing, like a balm for all of us who are cut off, shut away, trying not to get sick in a world that is very, very sick.

Each rollicking, wordy song, as evocative in some ways of Scott Walker’s lyric-driven approach to music as it is to Laura Nyro’s fearless refusal to hold fast to conventional song form, acts very much like a set of bolt cutters, in that it has the potential to liberate you from your situation if you listen long enough.

And I’ve listened long enough that it feels like the year’s best album.

 

Scott Walker – The Plague

The plague Walker is referencing is the plague of desire.

Of wanting and needing.

But in these times, it is hard not to hear ‘every day I’ve got to fight the plague’ as summarizing our lives now.

Oddly relegated to a b-side back in the day, the song is a stunning what if, suggesting Walker could have pursued a heavier, almost rock, sound slightly in keeping with his contemporaries.

And yet, it does point the way to something like Cue, which appears to be about a pandemic, and is far, far more bleak, and bleakly funny, than The Plague.

If you are ever sourcing music for a horror film, you could do worse than to incorporate this at a key moment…

Jessica Pratt–Back, Baby

 

There are albums and songs that see us through times of turmoil and strife, and in doing so become central to our personal dignity, to borrow a line from Scott Walker.

In fact, it was during a week of such awfulness that I first listened to Scott Walker.

My obsession with him was not immediate, and it really could have been that I might have rejected him completely for being associated with such an ugly era.

But that didn’t happen.

And slowly, I began to deeper and deeper into his music to the point where I am sure I play something by him almost every day.

About three years ago, I experienced even more profound difficulties in life, and it was at that time I discovered an album on Drag City by Jessica Pratt called On Your Own Love Again

Continue reading “Jessica Pratt–Back, Baby”

Scott Walker–It’s Raining Today

Because it is…

I’ve always liked the way the strings, arranged by Angela Morley (then Wally Stott), kind of emerge out of nowhere, and how menacing they sound.

This was the opening track of Scott 3, and Morley’s arrangement may be my favorite  by her, offsetting Walker’s warm reminiscence of what seems to have been a brief affair.

I know a lot of people think of Walker’s first few albums as being crooner schmaltz, but the inherent tension of It’s Raining Today makes this more like uneasy listening music.

If Scott Walker’s deep, rich baritone were a place, I would go there and never come back.