Fiona Apple — Fetch the Bolt Cutters ANALYSIS & REVIEW

Apple is a true singer-songwriter veteran, and she fully showcases her breadth of experience, both musical and worldly, in this one-of-a-kind work. Not only did experimental songwriting prowess reign supreme, but it began from a place of real personal authenticity. This wasn’t innovation for the sake of innovation; rather, it was a truly genuine and understandable display of emotion that carried with it a very unique sound. Pair that with a factory of continuous interesting musical ideas that a veteran songwriter can channel, and you get an album that’s unmistakably worth a listen.

Before I get into analyzing the strictly musical aspects that make this album succeed, I want to point out that the fusion of lyrics and music here was quite remarkable. Apple took great, if not extreme, care in how her text was set and how clearly her human emotions come across. One of the most difficult parts about being a songwriter is finding this genuine space where your musical ideas end up melding seamlessly with a personal story or a theme worth discussing. She clearly took a lot of time to find this space and figure out how best to serve her words. This was a huge accomplishment here. This work fully builds from and centers around the lyrical content, always going the extra mile to maintain energy through musical development while keeping true to not only the meaning of the words, but the actual words themselves. The end result is quite an emotional, well-rounded experience for those paying close attention.

Musically, this was accomplished by focusing intently, and almost solely, on rhythm. This was quite a masterclass in rhythmic composition. The rhythm of the organic word stresses and the lines she wanted to repeat not only dictated the sung melodic line, but the entirety of the track. She didn’t let her words become compromised by anything, instead building the musical substance around it through the inherent rhythm that the words gave off. This takes such bravery in execution here, because although a very nice idea to maintain authenticity, the music still needs to be sonically interesting and accessible, or else the listener won’t be engaged enough to feel the intended result.

This is the risk Apple probably saw when writing this music, and she took it head on, succeeding at creating one of the most rhythmically pleasing, energizing, fascinating collection of songs I have heard in a long time, all while doing it for the sake of her powerful storytelling. Mixed meter and syncopation, all based on how best to convey the words, was paramount here, shaping wonderful recurring rhythmic motives that served as the bulk of the memorable substance of each song. Big metric shifts were also used from section to section to not only ignite energy, but more important to signify a change of mood, both sonically and lyrically.

Of course, being so rhythmically centered, it was only natural that the percussion side of the instrumentation would play a large role. That’s almost an understatement here; percussion was the true driving musical force of the work, and where much of the thought and experimentation went into at every level. It wasn’t just the rhythm itself, but how the rhythm was conveyed timbrally, that made this an enjoyable work. Drumset, auxiliary percussion, hand clapping, timpani, bells, stomps, anything that could provide a pulse was used to shape each atmosphere. Even the piano and the bass, the two main non-percussion family instruments on the album, used great percussive techniques such as light arpeggiation and sharp attacks to further augment this style. Overall, the textures were kept quite minimal, and the many different small combos that were used were used to the fullest.

There were many great moments to get lost in here, one of my favorite being the recurring motive in the song “Relay”. This two measure motive is very catchy, being a mixing of straight 8ths and 16ths with the final two beats using offbeat accents to end the phrase. It’s not only cool within itself, but it’s sonically developed throughout the song builds up a groove that can sustain a few good minutes.

Speaking of the usage of motives, the overall form of each song was kept nicely unconventional while still very much serving the purpose of the narrative, which was basically the same as what the instrumentation itself did. These songs used a good balance of repeating short engaging material while being unpredictable in what the next overall section would bring. This surprise in form did well to keep things fresh and present new and interesting material in a nice blended way.

The only negatives that I have about the album can be boiled down to one conceptual principle, which is experimentation vs. attraction. It got to the point where the intended emotional deliveries seemed come mostly through the sheer attempt at uniqueness, which seemed a little forced. There’s times when musical experiments can go too far without stepping back to the big picture, thus derailing potential appeal. That’s not necessarily what happened here as a whole; like I said, the thought and experimentation done on every level here was crucial and a big part of what this album succeeded in.

The only thing I would say is that perhaps some of the success in finding a super raw, authentic, percussive dominant space could have been sacrificed to find other success in more tangible musical facets such as pitch relationships, instrumental color, tessitura, and harmonic decoration. This might have brought the music to an even greater level of enjoyability and added a further dimension, one more pragmatic, for an even more bittersweet experience. There were flashes of this here; the two songs that ended up being my favorite, “Ladies” and “Cosmonauts”, were two of the more subdued in terms of rhythmic centricity and percussive technique, opting for more pitch centricity and conventional backing roles. While I certainly enjoyed the work overall, perhaps the overall sonic edge gave way a bit too much to potential in finding more direct, juicy material.

Still, the songwriting construction here was quite genius — find a strong center to build around (the text), find the best musical element to enhance and embellish it (rhythm), and throw all of your thought power and experimental effort into that element to find gems. All in all, as much depth and uniqueness as this album has, that’s essentially the entire structure of the work. The thing is, every step was done with such careful thought and imagination that it left nothing too ordinary, too obvious, or too simple. This is a great combination of being an understandable yet surprising and engaging work of music. It’s difficult to try and explain it any further than that, because there’s only one person that knows exactly what happened in-between the structural foundation and the end material, and that’s Fiona Apple. All I can do is share my perspective on what I hear, and in this instance give props to the creative mind behind it.

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I’m Sam Mullooly, founder of the music review platform Album Analysis. I provide in-depth analysis and critique of new albums in a unique, music-oriented way.

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Album Analysis

Album Analysis

I’m Sam Mullooly, founder of the music review platform Album Analysis. I provide in-depth analysis and critique of new albums in a unique, music-oriented way.

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