ⓘ Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Fetch the Bolt Cutters

ⓘ Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Fetch the Bolt Cutters is the fifth studio album by American singer-songwriter Fiona Apple. It was released on April 17, 2020, Apples first release since The Idler Wheel. in 2012. The album was recorded from 2015 to 2020, largely at Apples home in Venice Beach. It was produced and performed by Apple alongside Amy Aileen Wood, Sebastian Steinberg and David Garza; recording consisted of long, often-improvised takes with unconventional percussive sounds. GarageBand was used for much of this recording, and Apple credited the albums unedited vocals and long takes to her lack of expertise with the program.

Rooted in experimentation, the highly percussive album resists genre categorization. While conventional instruments, such as pianos and drum sets, do appear, the album also features prominent use of non-musical found objects as percussion. Apple described the result as "percussion orchestras". These industrial-like rhythms are contrasted against traditional melodies, and the upbeat songs often subvert traditional pop structures.

The album explores freedom from oppression; Apple identified its core message as: "Fetch the fucking bolt cutters and get yourself out of the situation you’re in". The title, a quote from TV series The Fall, reflects this idea. The album also discusses Apples complex relationships with other women and other personal experiences, including bullying and sexual assault. It has nevertheless been referred to as Apples most humorous album.

Fetch the Bolt Cutters was released during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many critics found its exploration of confinement pertinent. It received significant critical acclaim, and was described as an instant classic and Apples best work to date. It is currently the highest rated album of all time on review aggregator Metacritic, with a rating of 100. The album debuted at number four on the US Billboard 200 and number one on the US Top Alternative Albums and Top Rock Albums, with 44.000 equivalent album units. It also charted in the top 15 in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.


1. Background and recording

In 2012, after releasing The Idler Wheel., Apple began conceptualizing a new album, considering a concept album based on her home in Venice Beach or the Pando in Utah.

In February 2015, she began rehearsals for the album with band members Sebastian Steinberg, Amy Aileen Wood and David Garza. They began writing and rehearsing in Apples Venice Beach home studio, using home-made percussive objects and chanting as they marched around the house.

In July, they began recording the album, spending three weeks at the Sonic Ranch studio in rural Texas, where they recorded most of "Relay", "Ladies", "Cosmonauts" and "On I Go". Apple recalled that these sessions were often unproductive, with the band being distracted by magic mushrooms and films. They returned to Los Angeles, working on the material at Stanley Recordings. Apple decided that recording should relocate to her Venice Beach home studio, where they soon returned. She likened her house to "the womb of where Ive developed into an adult", so she chose to record the album at home to "repay" the house. She elaborated on the houses presence in the album: "I really felt like its an instrument in itself, its the microphone: The house is the microphone, the house is the ambiance, the house is a member of the band". Further sessions for "Newspaper" and "Heavy Balloon" took place at engineer Dave Ways private studio, Waystation.

They recorded long takes consisting of instruments being hit against surfaces and objects; her vocals were unedited, and the album developed a highly percussive sound. The sessions at Apples home were largely recorded with GarageBand. On the long, unedited takes, Apple commented: "I didnt even know how to edit it and make a take shorter, so each track is just this one long take, and if I made a mistake in it, well, I better just play over it and let that mistake work itself into it". This resulted in what Apple described as "percussion orchestras", especially on "Newspaper" and the title track.

By July 2019, Apple had begun mixing the album. In September, the process began to slow down, with Apple developing doubts about the album. At this time, the artist first mentioned work on her new project in an interview with Vulture, explaining that she was still working hard on her next album which should have been released "a million years ago" and was hoping to put it out in 2020. She also admitted to being reclusive due to ongoing recording sessions at her Venice Beach house.

In January 2020, she played the mixes to her band members, whose positive responses brought Apple back on track. In an interview that month, she said that the album process was in its final stages, with the only things left being "artwork and stuff". On March 9, 2020, she revealed that she had finished recording.


2. Music and lyrics

The albums sound is defined by percussion. Apples characteristic piano-playing is still evident, but takes a more percussive form. As well as drum sets and traditional percussion, the album features the use of found objects as percussion, such as a metal butterfly and the bones of Apples deceased dog Janet. The experimental rhythms on the album evoke industrial music and are juxtaposed against more traditional melodies. Stereogum s Tom Breihan argues that while percussive music is typically "built around the idea of dancing, of guiding and channeling the rhythms of the human body", the album instead "plays as a wild, feverish attempt to mirror the chaos that goes on in the human mind when it’s at its most overheated" Apple has attributed the albums prominent use of percussion to a childhood habit, developed as a part of her obsessive-compulsive disorder, in which she would always walk rhythmically to a strict tempo.

The album has been noted for its experimental approach to pop music. It defies genre categorization, and critics have noted its originality. Nevertheless, it has been compared to the works of Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Nina Simone, and Kate Bush, who is quoted on the title track. The album often rejects popular musics traditional verse-chorus structure. The unpredictable songs feature looped sections, sudden stops and tempo changes. Apples long-time bassist Sebastian Steinberg compared the album to Apples 2012 song "Hot Knife", describing it as "very raw and unslick". It has been noted as less melancholy than Apples past work, with the uptempo songs being described as "funny, angry, and at times triumphant". The album features frequent improvisation, as well as background noise such as the barking of dogs, largely as a result of its home recording.

On the album, Apple approached her voice as a musical instrument, commenting: "I have fun with my voice, but I’m not trying to make it pretty all the time. I’m not trying to convince anybody I’m a singer. It just turned out to be another instrument". Breihan noted that Apple demonstrates "a rapper’s sense that words can be music", while The Guardian s Laura Barton highlighted the intimacy of Apples vocals: "half-conversational, half-self-mutters, allowing every scuff, breath and feral yelp". Jon Pareles of The New York Times found that "whether she’s cooing with sarcastic solicitousness or rasping close to a scream, she articulates every word clearly, emoting but never losing control".

Lyrically, Apple identified the albums main theme as "not being afraid to speak," with Barton similarly recognizing "a refusal to be silenced". Apple later said that this was an oversimplification, elaborating that "its about breaking out of whatever prison you’ve allowed yourself to live in," and pinpointing the message as: "Fetch the fucking bolt cutters and get yourself out of the situation you’re in". She has said that writing the album helped free her of the ideas she had of herself, explaining that "this whole album, for me, has turned into the headache that I had inside of my head and now that its released, its like this pulse that now we can all share". Pareles found that the album explored "both past and present injuries: bullying, sexual assault, destructive mind games, romantic debacles, own fears and compulsions and the people who have taken advantage of them". The album explores freedom, with Breihan writing that "we can hear the euphoria of a great unburdening". The album has also been identified as Apples most humorous album.

Another theme Apple explores on the album are her complex social relationships with other women. Apple commented that these relationships began to suffer in middle school, and the album features Apple trying to make peace with "the sorts of women that society has always deemed her competition", such as subsequent girlfriends of her exes. Apple summarized this idea as "not letting men pit us against each other or keep us separate from each other so they can control the message".


3. Songs

The opening track, "I Want You to Love Me", was initially addressed to a hypothetical lover, but was eventually influenced by Apples relationship with writer Jonathan Ames, as well as by a period of meditation in 2010–11, at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Woodacre, California. The latter experience is explored in the line "And I know when I go all my particles disband and disperse / and I’ll be back in the pulse," which explores a breakthrough she achieved following a throbbing headache, "in which the world lit up, showing her a pulsing space between the people at the retreat - a suggestion of something larger". "Shameika" is named after a girl who attended middle school with Apple. The song is based on an experience Apple recalled when she was rejected by a group of popular girls, after which "Shameika came up, and she was like, Why are you trying to sit with those girls? You have potential." The line, "Sebastian said Im a good man in a storm", was inspired by an incident in Marfa, Texas where the band were almost arrested for cannabis possession. Bassist Sebastian Steinberg made the comment to Apple in response to how she handled the event.

The title track was one of the last songs recorded for the album, and came after the album already had its title. English model and actress Cara Delevigne provides background vocals; Apple chose Delevigne in part because her English accent matched that of Gillian Andersons character in The Fall, from whom the title is quoted. The sound of barking dogs which appears at the end of the song comes from Apples dog Mercy, Delevignes Leo and Alfie, and Zelda Hallmans Maddie. The track quotes Kate Bushs 1985 single "Running Up That Hill". The humorous "Under the Table" describes an antagonistic dinner party. Apple has said that it was informed by an expensive dinner she attended with "lots of bragging about things I wouldn’t brag about". She continued that following an offensive comment made by one of the guests, "I called the guy out. And may have messed the dinner up a little bit. But I was right". She later added that one of the guests at the dinner was "a prominent figure of a streaming service". "Relay" features the line, "Evil is a relay sport, when the one you burn turns to pass the torch", which Apple first wrote when she was aged 15. Apple explores her own resentments, some of which she has characterized as "funny" or "petty", including social media influencers in the line "I resent you presenting your life like a fucking propaganda brochure". The track is musically influenced by both cheerleading chants and R&B.

Apple wrote "Rack of His" over a ten-year period; it was inspired by two different relationships she was in. The title was inspired by band member David Garza saying: "Oh, I did terrible things to that rack of his". "Newspaper" was also inspired by two different relationships. According to Maura Johnston of The Boston Globe, the song "shines a harsh spotlight on the way women are casually and cruelly pitted against each other in the game of love". For The New York Times, Jon Pareles wrote that the songs narrator "identifies with her ex’s new girlfriend as she sees - and now recognizes - the way he undercuts her". The song features backing vocals from Apples sister, cabaret singer Maude Maggart, who recorded her vocals while breast feeding. Apple has said that the tracks title is arbitrary, and she could not recall its origin. "Ladies" also explores the idea of "not letting men pit to be together with anybody forever". Because of this, Apple said: "I interpreted it as like, It’s going to be you and me in this little vessel by ourselves in space, except it’s going to weigh a lot more, and you’re going to really get on my nerves. It’s supposed to be a song about being together forever, and so of course my first line is, Your face ignites a fuse to my patience. Like whatever you do, it’s going to be wrong".

Apple is the only musician credited on "For Her", which has been described as "cathartic", and "one of the albums most arresting songs". The tracks depiction of a mans abuse of a woman is based, with permission, on the stories told to Apple by a friend who worked as an intern at a film production company. The song addresses the man on behalf of the friend, in Apples words, "to, in a roundabout way, tell her story that she’s not able to tell". She also commented: "And of course it brings up stuff of my own. It started out me wanting to write something about my own feelings, but it was just too hard. I wanted to make it about not just me but about other people". The song, especially the lines "Good mornin! Good mornin / You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in", was partly written in response to the nomination of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh, despite multiple allegations of sexual violence. Musically, the track has three sections. It begins as "a kind of playground chant", and then a "rebuking tribal cheer", before "it shape-shifts into a fever dream, the backing vocals eventually settling into an abstracted wail".

"Drumset" was written in the period following Apples break-up with Ames. Apple had a minor argument with her band, after which drummer Amy Aileen Wood removed her drumset for a live performance. Apple said she mis-interpreted this "as that they were pissed at me and that they weren’t going to come back", at which point she improvised the lyrics to the song: "The drumset is gone, and the rug it was on is still here, screaming at me". The band later recorded the song in a single take. Apple has called closing track "On I Go" a "vipassanā chant" which she originally sung while imprisoned following a 2012 arrest for hash possession. She has said that the song explores how "there doesn’t have to be any specific meaning or reward or consequence of the things I’m doing". Caramanica highlighted a "fascinating, circular pattern in the vocal rhythms; incisive and destabilizing percussion; plenty of empty space that leaves room for shock", comparing the effect to the lyrical experimentation of independent hip hop in the late 1990s.


4. Release

On March 16, 2020, Apple announced the album and its title in an extensive New Yorker profile. At the start of April, she announced that the album was set to be released digitally on April 17. Epic Records had planned to release the album in October, due to promotional limitations brought by the coronavirus pandemic. However, Apple pushed to release the album early, both for the benefit of listeners who were under self-isolation, and so she could avoid stressful press commitments. Apples friend King Princess also encouraged the early release. Critics have commented on the timeliness of releasing the album during the pandemic, finding thematic relevance in its exploration of confinement, and comparing Apples reclusiveness to the widespread self-isolation restrictions.


4.1. Release Title

The title, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, is a quote from the British-Irish crime drama television series The Fall, where the protagonist, a sex-crimes investigator portrayed by Gillian Anderson, recites the phrase while investigating a crime scene where a woman was tortured. Upon the albums release, Anderson acknowledged the title by sharing an animated GIF of the scene via Twitter. The quote reflects the albums exploration of becoming free, with Apple summarizing the titles message as "Fetch your tool of liberation. Set yourself free".


4.2. Release Artwork

The albums artwork was designed by band member David Garza, following the decision to release the album early. Apple sent him a photo she had taken of herself "two or three" years earlier, and saved as a potential cover photo. On the choice of photograph, she commented: "That face is very much me. I just wanted to be like, Hey, guess what? I’m back! Here are some songs. Want to listen to the music, huh? Hi, hi, hi, hi."


5.1. Reception Critical response

Fetch the Bolt Cutters was met with widespread acclaim, with many critics deeming it an instant classic, a masterpiece, and Apples best work to date. At review aggregator Metacritic, the release received a weighted average score of 100 out of 100, based on 24 reviews, making it the highest rated album in the websites history. It is also the highest rated album on AnyDecentMusic?, with an average rating of 9.3/10. Album of the Year assigned it a score of 95 out of 100.

The album was awarded Pitchfork s first perfect score since Kanye Wests My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in 2010, with Jenn Pelly describing the album as, "unbound, a wild symphony of the everyday, an unyielding masterpiece. No music has ever sounded quite like it." Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic wrote that "Its rare to listen to a pop album and have no idea what comes next, and Fetch the Bolt Cutter s delivers surprises that delight and bruise at a rapid pace". He concluded, "The unpredictable nature feels complex and profoundly human, resulting in an album thats nourishing and joyfully cathartic". For Rolling Stone, Claire Shaffer named it Apples best album, writing "Apple has never sounded more sure of herself, and that alone is cause for celebration".

Maura Johnston of The Boston Globe applauded the album for its "matter-of-fact depictions of everyday brutality", and added that "even creates a rare intimacy", and commented that "As beautiful as the melodies and the epiphanies they carry often are, the songs are not what you would call pretty.Yet Bolt Cutters wouldn’t be the extraordinary experiment in aural and lyrical honesty that it is if it sounded too polished". Patrick Ryan of USA Today described the album as "a dense and richly poetic masterpiece from one of musics best modern storytellers" with "razor-sharp statements and evocative lyrics that reveal themselves in every new listen".

The Daily Telegraph s chief music critic Neil McCormick described it as "a masterpiece for the #MeToo era", writing that it "feels about as real as music can be". In a five-star review, Laura Barton from The Guardian commented on the albums "refusal to be silenced", writing: "The result is that this seems not so much an album as a sudden glorious eruption; after eight long years, an urgent desire to be heard". Kitty Empire of sister publication The Observer described the album as "a strange and exceptional record, even within the context of an uncommon career". Will Hodgkinson of The Times called it "a totally original, utterly compelling album", concluding: "This album is deep enough for multiple interpretations while being so authentic to its creator’s vision, you want to unpeel its layers and reveal the core. It is like nothing else you will hear this year". For NME, Charlotte Krol wrote that the album "will cut straight to the gut for Apple fans old and new and leave behind indelible messages about her life and illustrious career, now spanning two decades. It’s an intoxicating listen – and one of her best".


5.2. Reception Commercial performance

On the US Billboard 200, Fetch the Bolt Cutters debuted at number four with 44.000 equivalent album units, marking the singers third consecutive top 10 album, and her second-highest charting release; The Idler Wheel. reached number three in 2012. Of that sum, 30.000 are in album sales, 13.000 are in SEA units and less than 1.000 are in TEA units. It also debuted atop the Billboard charts for Top Alternative Albums and Top Rock Albums. Outside of the US, the album reached the top ten in Canada, the top 15 in Australia and New Zealand, the top 40 in Ireland, Switzerland, Scotland, Denmark, the UK and the Flanders region of Belgium, and the top 100 in Austria, Italy, Germany and France.

No singles were issued from the album prior to its release. Nevertheless, the song "Shameika" peaked at number 24 on the Billboard Adult Alternative Songs chart in May 2020, and was Apples first entry on that chart since "Fast as You Can" in January 2000. The albums first five tracks all appeared on the Billboard Hot Rock Songs chart, as her first entries on the chart.


6. Personnel

Credits are adapted from Pitchfork.


  • Sebastian Steinberg – bass 1–10, 12, 13, drums 1, percussion 2, 5, 9, electric autoharp 10, 13, acoustic 12-string guitar 10, slide guitar 10, background vocals 12, lighter on Wurlitzer 12, harp 12, watertower 13, stomps 13, breathing 13
  • Fiona Apple – vocals all tracks, piano 1, 2, 4, 10, Casio drums 1, percussion 2, 3, 5–7, 9, 10, 13, background vocals 2–5, 7–13, drums 3, 5–7, 9, 11, 13, metal butterfly 3, Mellotron 6, 12, electronic drums 7, timpani 7, Wurlitzer 8, Casio 9, bells 9, chair 12
  • David Garza – vibes 4, 8, percussion 5, 8, 9, 12, 13, guitar 6, 7, background vocals 8, 12, Mellotron 8, piano 10, electric guitar 10, Wurlitzer 10, organ 12, watertower 13
  • Amy Aileen Wood – drums 1–10, 12, 13, percussion 2, 4, 5, 9, 10, 13, loops 10

Additional musicians


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