News about coronavirus is coming hard and fast, and the Portland Monthly staff is working to bring you up-to-date information about how the crisis is affecting Portlanders. It’s vital we all stay informed and figure out how to help each other through this surreal, challenging moment.
It’s also vital that we take some breaths. Every week, in lieu of a “top things to do this weekend” post, we’re going to pause and share the pandemic-free content that’s keeping us sane (or somewhere close).
Stand on the Top of Mount Tabor at 7 p.m.
Fiona Apple knows how to open an album. First words on 1999’s When the Pawn ... : “All my life is on me now / Hail the pages turning / And the future’s on the bound / Hell don't know my fury.” Extraordinary Machine, 2005: “I certainly haven’t been shopping for any new shoes / And I certainly haven’t been spreading myself around.” The Idler Wheel ... , 2012: “Every single night, I endure the flight / Of little wings of white-flamed butterflies in my brain.”
On Fetch the Bolt Cutters, released Friday and already cemented as my most-listened-to record of 2020 so far, she roars back after eight years off the grid with a mission statement: “I’ve waited many years / Every print I left upon the track has led me here.” The rest of opener “I Want You to Love Me,” a stunning cabaret number that sounds like it was recorded on the top of a crisp-aired mountain, sees her walk a jaw-dropping tightrope between unbothered, assured, desperate, and devastated. She keeps the balance up—and then some—for the next 50 minutes.
This album, recorded across five years almost entirely inside Apple’s home, triggered the same emotional reaction as my first rewatch of Greta Gerwig’s Little Women: baffled joy mixed with a soul-deep ache that eventually manifested as a steady stream of unstoppable tears. If 2012's singular, perfect The Idler Wheel ... saw her strip away her maximalist tendencies for raw, homemade instrumentation, here she takes that homemade instrumentation—most songs are about 85 percent percussion, with Apple playing things like a chair, the stove, a metal butterfly, a box of her dead dog’s bones—and makes it maximal. These are massive songs, booming and borderless, each a little sonic universe unto itself, bolstered by always-perfect words from the pen of a genuine, inarguable genius. (Also by dog barks and smatterings of chunky upright bass.)
Apple covers a lot of ground on Bolt Cutters, but the general theme seems to be, “Yell, break shit, demand space, and apologize when you have to.” On the hilarious "Under the Table," she tells a stiflingly polite dinner party: “I would beg to disagree / But begging disagrees with me.” On the bone-chilling “For Her,” she indicts a remorseless Hollywood abuser with his own vernacular, sampling “Good Morning” from Singin’ in the Rain to remind him of his crimes; it’s the most instantly memorable moment on an album full of them. “Heavy Balloon,” a driving, Graceland-by-way-of-Lynch number about depression, is punctuated by Apple’s shredded alto chanting, “I spread like strawberries / I climb like peas and beans / I’ve been sucking it in so long that I’m busting at the seams.”
So is this album. So am I when I listen to it. Watching the rollout on Twitter last Thursday night—seeing legendary critics like Ann Powers get reduced to giddy fans, live-tweeting every bizarre sonic flourish and eviscerating line—was as communal an experience as I’ve had in a long time. Remembering that Fiona Apple made this album—this restless, righteous, pissed-off, perfect album—while she was locked in her own home, tortured by her own thoughts, is more motivating than one thousand tweets about writing King Lear. I want to tattoo most of these songs on my body. I want to run outside and ask my neighbors if they’ve heard it yet. I want to make anything, ANYTHING, a fraction this unbound before I die.
Thanks, Fiona. I’ll wait another eight years for the next one if I have to. —Conner Reed, arts & culture editor
Having done nothing this week but listen to Fiona Apple (see Conner Reed’s stellar review above, to which I would add ‘what he said’), clean dishes and rooms over and over (soundtracked gloriously by Fiona Apple), and read to my children, I’m taking this moment for Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man. Having cavalierly dismissed this series as a poor substitute for *prim, school marm voice* proper chapter books, I was forced into submission by a 6-year-old supa-fan and have found more points of connection with Petey the cat (and the constant interruptions from his
son clone), and more to enjoy about people falling in holes, hyperaffectionate face-licking, and jokes for which the punchline is always diarrhea than I ever thought possible. COVID-time memes may remind us all of how much we’re aging right now, but I’m regressing to kindergarten humor, and feeling all the feels about a story that starts tragically—Dog’s body dies! Man’s head dies!—and ends with a whole new breed of hero. Props to Pilkey for reminding me that from sad circumstances, new champions can emerge, and happy endings are still possible if you’re ready to toss out your antiquated notions of normalcy. –Fiona McCann, Senior Editor-at-Large