Fiona Apple Is Back and Unbound: Let’s Discuss


CARAMANICA It’s funny, there’s this moment on “Cosmonauts” that took me right back to “Tidal,” musically. And by that point in the album, I very much did not need that callback. If this is Apple’s most experimental work, I also find it to be the most soothing — as if she has arrived at forms and formats that are perfect kin to the work her voice is doing, which is haymaker-intense and balance-beam nimble.

We haven’t talked about the album closer, “On I Go,” yet: It floored me. Sort of a fascinating, circular pattern in the vocal rhythms; incisive and destabilizing percussion; plenty of empty space that leaves room for shock. It reminded me of some of the thrilling and unanticipated lyrical experiments of mid- to late-90s independent hip-hop, when words and drums turned from building blocks to Silly Putty.

ZOLADZ There’s been a lovely feeling of communal excitement around this record’s release. Maybe I’m biased toward knowing more Fiona Apple fans than the average person, but it certainly feels much of the music world is attuned to her frequency right now — as I write this, my downstairs neighbor is blasting the entire album. It’s a bit counterintuitive, since there wasn’t a single or much traditional promo surrounding this record, but it seems to me like the first big musical monocultural event to unite us all in our self-isolation, with all (or at least some) due respect to Drake giving us a tour of his mansion in the “Toosie Slide” video.

Most critics seem united in their opinions of it, too (Pitchfork dropped its first perfect 10 since “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”). I’m curious if there’s going to be a backlash to all the hosannas, or if any of you find this record to be less than extraordinary.

MORRIS I do not! It’s everything you’ve said — alive with a 42-year-old woman reconciling with her adolescence self, the very one who gave us songs like “Sleep to Dream,” “The First Taste” and “Sullen Girl.” That teenager is who I hear harmonizing with Apple here. The rhythms on that first album are rippling quietly here. “Heavy Balloon” could have fit in on “Tidal.” Except that “people like us” lyric opens it. She’s synthesizing and empathizing, reaching out here, in a new way. As you all have vividly pointed out, it’s a reckoning record — with her selves, her men, her ideas about songcraft. Where can she take herself? How else can she sound? Childing, wounded, winded, wise, sure.

PARELES It’s not just the wild craftsmanship of each song. It’s also that she’s fearless about what she’s doing: with sounds, with structures, with people’s expectations. “On I Go” doesn’t just end the album with a rhythmic explosion — it’s also a manifesto. “Up until now in a rush to prove,” she sings. “Now I just move to move.”



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