Fiona Apple has been known for being controversial ever since she started her career — just by declaring in her VMA speech that water is wet, which nicely outlined the situation.

23 years have passed since then; nowadays, it's hard to surprise anyone with the idea of bending conventional social norms to your liking — and Fiona played a big role in that. If it weren't for her, several generations of woman songwriters who completely reconceptualized female vocals in music would not have existed. It is not only about music: some TV series, such as the HBO's «Girls», would not have been made as well.

Fiona even did #MeToo before it was mainstream: in her very first album, she opened up about her own sexual assault.

In 2020, Fiona beat everyone again with Fetch The Bolt Cutters. She self-isolated a couple of years before the rest of the world did, and took the time to create new homemade percussion for her album: it has barking dogs, slamming doors, clanking tin cans. The trope of «garage album» is more alive than ever.

At the same time, Fetch the Bolt Cutters is incredibly complex and professionally formed instrumentally.

Blues, gospel, ragtime are the pillars of the album. To spice them up, Apple added her traditional atonal shifts: each track at the third of its length breaks with convention and opens up into unexpected musical arrangements that can be hard to focus on.

You can't tell for sure where the track is going. And yet, despite the ingenuity of the music, Fiona's vocals –– strong and multifaceted –– play a key role. She uses her whole range: from incomprehensible muttering in Rack of His, soul and lyrical arabesques in Cosmonauts, to forceful rapping in For Her.

For Her fades almost into an a cappella choir — it is definitely one of the best tracks of the album, both in music and in lyrics.the line «You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in» aptly describes it.

Everything in this album becomes a detailed self-reflection into her own experience, which is typical for Apple. On the one hand, it's good, considering that in our world men's experience is the default — but on the other, it raises some questions, especially because of how much she appropriates black culture.

Fiona's candidness has always been rather spurious, like in the iconic Criminal, when she sings how unhappy she is and how she needs to be protected while obviously acting in the video. Hard to say if it was a conscious choice, but it did leave a rather ambivalent feeling that is hard to overcome.

Discussing your traumas directly is — as we know — what fuels art, as well as social change. Yet does it make sense to make it the sole and singular focus of your art? The difference between being sincere and just cashing in is unclear, and Apple does not make it any clearer.

Katherine Gorina
Fiona Apple is an American singer with a complicated destiny as she is a survivor of sexual assault However, she claims that she has never written songs about her trauma. Her entire family was connected with music — her grandfather used to sing in a big band, and her sister is a cabaret singer. Apple received a classical music education and played the piano since she was a child Her idols from an early age are jazz singers Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.

«Fetch the Bolt Cutters» was released on April 17 and continues to get high ratings. At this point it can be even called album of the year: it has gotten the highest ratings on all major music sites which almost sounds like some kind of joke: op score of one hundred points on Metacritic and 10/10 (oh, my, ten out of ten) on Pitchfork. The last time such a score by Pitchfork was given only to Kanye's album «My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy» (2010). Moreover, immediately after the album was released, tons of memes appeared on English-speaking Twitter where the album's name was written in other popular memes. In this situation, such high ratings and attention are more interesting than the album itself.

Many people are used to artists who are popular not because of their music but their behavior. Fiona does not make loud statements and does not walk the crocodiles. Such high ratings no longer seem strange when you look at the history of Fiona's albums. Thanks to connections, Fiona's first album, «Tidal» (1996) was released on the major label Sony Music. «Tidal» is a great pop record with jazz tunes, lots of cliches, and breakup songs. It was her debut and immediately became a stunning success simultaneously: three million copies were sold in the US alone. Singles from the album charted in a bunch of markets, sold well , and won a Grammy for the single «Criminal».

In 1999, «When the Pawn...» was released it's even a more personal album and where the influence of alternative music genres that were popular at the time like trip-hop and was influenced by popular alternative music trends of the time like trip-hop can be heard clearly. «Extraordinary Machine» (2005) had an all-star production team Mike Elizondo (Dr. Dre, Eminem) and Brian Kehoe (Black Sabbath and other rock'n'roll stuff). «The Idler Wheel...» (2012) also got almost perfect ratings and reached number three on the Billboard 200. Success has accompanied the artist since then so that high ratings don't seem so delusional as they do at first glance.
Eight years after the last album, «Fetch the Bolt Cutters» is released — a classic pop jazz-influenced record A goofy album cover during the analogue era would be the key to failure. However, in 2020 only audiophiles care about vinyl and cassettes. And yet the question is: what's the reason to love Fiona Apple? It's the voice and singing style inherited from Nina Simone. The jazz percussion. Her delivery doesn't sound like modern rapping. It stylistically refers to the time when jazz musicians recited stand-up during improvisations. The critics are even more conservative than the audience as they tend to adore old stuff. But this is not enough for such success. Recent releases by Mac Miller, Yves Tumor, and Thundercat are also inspired by the classics but haven't as high of ratings

In addition to the love of classics, «Fetch the Bolt Cutters» demonstrates excellent performance of various musical instruments, both by Fiona and other musicians. Catchy hook phrases are in the chorus of each song. Also, there is a stylistic variety: the same track «Shameika» strikes in the era of rappers and Billie Eilish, who sing in one tune. Apple sincerely sings, yells, howls about the events of her life. «Under the Table» is about vile men, «Heavy Balloon» is about depression, «Shameika» is about praise from a classmate of thirty years ago. Fiona Apple's album is full of resentment, toxic relationships, dissatisfaction, and vulnerability: Simple, clear stories that could happen to everyone. A weak person who grows up and learns to be strong. Fetch the bolt cutters, break your chains, run, fight, become a person. All this is in the shape of a clear pop song, which also sounds more complex and interesting than everything else which surrounds it. Besides, her album generally fits into the feminist agenda, track «Ladies», for example. Fiona sings about what people discuss in their blogs. That's ten out of ten from Pitchfork.

«Fetch the Bolt Cutters» is a solid pop record, but not an album of the decade. It is as a session with a therapist, but it is not Tom Waits.

Anton Valsky
translated by Nick Brandin
The latest album of the British musician Ghostpoet under a disturbingly relatable title «I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep» opens with a track with a persistent refrain in the chorus: «I wanna die / We all wanna die».

This line is a pretty neat summary both of the album and of Obaro Ejimiwe's work in general, even from the get go — his debut album «Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam» that came out almost a decade again. Maybe it even can be traced to earlier — to his total masterpiece of a track «Cash and Carry me home», verging on a love letter to the world of the ceaseless party-goers, a confession and an epitaph to himself, still retaining its significance. Ejimiwe never tried to make his oeuvre socially acceptable — he rather prefers the opposite: his lyrics drag the things that we'd prefer to leave in shadows to the light, and he refuses to characterize his music within a certain genre on principle, while everyone around him tries to categorize it as a trip-hop, hip hop, alternative, or whatever.

This position beyond the music genres is intentional, and he explains it well: «It's ok to be confused, not everything in life needs explanation, sometimes we just have to go with it.» This approach reads like a creative technique: belonging to no certain genre lets Ejimiwe express himself freely, both in lyrics and in music: in his latest album he uses the whole range of them, from trip-hop beat with piano («This Train Wreck of a Life») to experimental jazz, from crude percussions, and bird's song (sic!) («When Mouths Collide») to guitar like in later Liars («Breaking Cover», «Nowhere to Hide Now»).

Ejimiwe wrote and produced the album himself, and it's very obvious. The only alien additions are homeopathically diluted particles of female vocals («This Train Wreck of a Life», «Nowhere to Hide Now», «When Mouths Collide», «Social Lacerations»). It's a wholesome and individualistic creation of one person who knows well what he wants to say and how to say it. Traditional trip-hop and rock sounds are transformed to his will, and take on surprising atonality, a bit of abnormality and obscurity that makes it more finished and real.

Meanwhile, Ghostpoet's lyrics are undeniably grim, yet it's never been a superficial trait, so it does not succumb to any sort of cliches. His view on the society has always been clear, and he analyzes his character's inner life ruthlessly, yet this analysis works through an emotional dichotomy, which makes it not quite as depressive. Difficulty and uncertainty of one's own existence are not something you can ignore and flee from. Yes, the world does not get better — and yet, even though «we all want to die», we still «wanna know what's it all mean.»

Katherine Gorina
translated by Marina Bazarnaya
Obaro Ejimiwe started making music while in university as many other British pop artists have: Little Simz, Loyle Carner, Tom Misch, King Krule to name a few. Even the most political slowthai is no exception. All of them have studied at least a few years. That's just what mother said : the only option to become famous was to enter university. Like most young British musicians, Ghostpoet at first just used to read grime, and only then things have changed.

So much that now Obaro is recording tracks featuring Massive Attack - pioneers of the Bristol sound. His tracks are on the radio rotation and in video games, and each album has been nominated for the Mercury Prize. The new «I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep» (2020) doesn't set any records, but there is no doubt that Ghostpoet is one of the most popular British musicians at the moment.

There's always a lot of luck in pop music. In 2010, Ghostpoet's demo song somehow was noticed by jazz musician Gilles Peterson of his own music program on BBC Radio 1, and owner of the major British labels like Acid Jazz, Talkin' Loud, and Brownswood. These labels specialize in jazz and experimental music. Gilles released a Ghostpoet's demo on the compilation «Brownswood Bubblers Six» (2010) on the self-titled label along with other unknown artists. Ghostpoet's debut album «Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam» (2011) was also released on this label. It was an immediate success, nomination for the Mercury Prize, love, fame, and adoration.

Along «Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam», Ghostpoet began to use trip-hop beats. Critics since then have been confused, trying to define his music by some genre. However, Obaro has never been unique as he always somewhat resembled his compatriot Roots Manuva, who even in the early 2000s often used different electronic beats. However, Roots Manuva is a classic straight-forward rapper, you still shake your head listening to his music. Ghostpoet also raps about the same hardships of life and alcoholism, but much more open and vulnerable and with pop beats that get under the skin.

«I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep» is Ghostpoet's lowest-rated album yet. Although this is still the same artist who reads about depression and suffering. Nothing has changed except for the music itself. It became simpler and calmer and shifted from trip-hop and electronica to alternative rock style of Death In Vegas. There are quite a lot of examples of such slow-minor alternative rock. «I Grow Tired But Dare Not Fall Asleep» is difficult to highlight from other releases.

Ghostpoet is a quite boring composer. Like many jazz musicians, he is into sounds and structure, but not a variety of catchy tunes: there aren't many memorable tracks on the album. Obaro Ejimiwe does not want to be liked, he isn't trying to vent (this is not therapy). This is pure darkness inside and around. If you listen to Ghostpoet for poetry, then you won't lose anything from the change of styles. His lyrics still captivate. Simple and clear topics: pain, longing, and unbearable fatigue. Insomnia from the quarantine as well.

Anton Valsky
translated by Nick Brandin
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