We’re in the second half of the #mayvinylchallenge and today is Best Quarantine Album. You can interpret that in a myriad of ways: is it the album that got me through quarantine? Is it the best album released during quarantine? Are the two mutually exclusive? A lot of music helped me to survive 2020, but only a handful of albums served that purpose for my entire family. I don’t know if you’re tired about hearing how “Shameika said I had potential,” but that refrain from Fiona Apple off her long awaited fifth album Fetch the Bolt Cutters gave so much life and energy to my family I really couldn’t pick anything else.
A surprise album coming eight years from her previous effort, Fetch the Bolt Cutters sounds immediately like Fiona Apple even as it sounds like nothing else she or anyone has quite done before. You can feel free to argue that; I’m making that statement from the point of view of from my own experience, which for the purpose of this is all that matters. From the moment the simple percussive pop beat gives way to the naked, tentative piano of “I Want You to Love Me” and Apple’s sing song voice hits on the 1 and the 3 I feel all broken parts of me lift and sense a kindred feeling. The production is skeletal: your head feels inside the house where a large portion of Fetch the Bolt Cutters takes place. One of the many strengths of Apple’s music has always been to transport you to her world for the length of the album’s run-time; in this instance that has never been more true.
“Shameika” was always the early standout with that refrain. My wife would sing it sat the top of her lungs whenever we played the record in the house. Then she would sing it at the top of her lungs even when we weren’t playing the record. She would use that refrain to almost anything my son would say to her. She used it as a joke, as a joy indicator, and sometimes as a punctuation to her sadness. We all used it to remind ourselves when we were low that we had potential. How often can you say a song helped you remember that?
But for me everything coalesces in the title track, punching me in the gut with its “Fetch the bolt cutters / I’ve been in here too long.” The percussion moves the song and all of Fetch the Bolt Cutters through strange hallways, a result of the “found percussion” Apple and her producers used. You can hear the banging of pots and forks and other odd objects adding strange accents to the rhythms, not to mention her dogs. This embrace of the moment, the way the production uses the environment and the improvised, rehearsal nature of the circumstances nail the soundtrack to the time better than anything else I listened to in 2020. It constantly sound on the verge of scattering, of breaking away to a better take, a better more rehearsed moment, and that’s the genius of the album, how it stays so pure to the feeling of almost falling apart any moment, and how there’s a strength to that.