Just a little over three years ago, a month or so into the pandemic, Fiona Apple released Fetch the Bolt Cutters into the world. I couldn’t stop playing it then, and I’m still playing it now.
One of the things I love about the record is how homemade it sounds.
It sounds like a woman who doesn’t leave the house making music in her house… because it is. A great deal of it was recorded in her house in Venice Beach, a house very dear to her.
“This house is alive to me,” she told NPR. “The fact is, this house was here when I needed a place to go.”
And so there’s this way that I feel like I want to repay this house by making it the music. Because it has been my mother, really; it’s been the home of all the music. It’s been the womb of everything, for all these years. It’s been the womb of where I’ve developed into an adult. And so I really felt like it’s an instrument in itself, it’s the microphone: The house is the microphone, the house is the ambiance, the house is a member of the band.
And you hear the house all over the record. It is a true “home recording.”
Connected to that is another thing I love about it: how much it was recorded on her iPhone and in GarageBand, the music software that comes standard on every Mac.
In my diary, I recorded this exchange with my son Owen, who was 7 at the time:
On albums like this — albums that have been worked on for several years but are released at just the right time with big world events — the lyrics can seem spooky and downright prophetic:
“I know that that time is elastic”
“I know none of this will matter in the long run / but I know a sound is still a sound around no one”
“Whenever you want to begin, begin! / we don’t have to go back to where we’ve been!”
Bolt Cutters feels like a plague album the way Purple Mountains feels like a plague album and the way Yankee Hotel Foxtrot feels like a 9/11 album. These records feel like prophesies, when really, like many works of science fiction, they are the products of sensitive souls describing our pre-existing conditions.
Great artists are tuned in to their environments. Henry Miller said an artist was a person “who has antennae, who knows how to hook up to the currents which are in the atmosphere, in the cosmos” and they have “the facility for hooking on, as it were.”
If you’re able to really capture the present moment and exaggerate it, it feels prescient later, because that’s usually what the future is: an exaggeration of its recent past.
Related reading: “Songs as shelters in time”