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Even though so much happened in 2020, there was one major bright spot: legendary singer/songwriter Fiona Apple released her first album in nearly a decade, and it was amazing. As someone who spent most of my time in high school wearing too much eyeliner and writing broodingly in my journal, I’m a longtime Fiona Apple fan, but her 2020 album Fetch the Bolt Cutters attracted some newbies to her fandom. Whether you spent 2020 running Fetch the Bolt Cutters into the ground like I did, or you just find yourself intrigued about what Fiona Apple has to offer after seeing her name in so many best-albums-of-the-year lists, I am here to be your field guide. The best part? You can stream all of her albums for free right now on Freegal with your library card. 

Where to start 

The cover art for Fiona Apple's album Tidal, image from Freegal
Tidal (image from Freegal)

Even if you don’t think you’ve ever listened to Fiona Apple before, you’ve probably encountered the single “Criminal” off of her debut album, 1996’s Tidal. It’s a sultry, jazzy number with a dark edge that clearly laid the groundwork for contemporary dark-pop icons like Billie Eilish. Tidal pulls from jazz, alternative-rock, and the work of classic singer/songwriters like Joni Mitchell to create an album that manages to be catchy while still giving you a sneak peek into the more experimental directions she would be going.  

Where to go next 

The cover art for Fiona Apple's album The Idler Wheel, image from Freegal
The Idler Wheel (image from Freegal)

There is no wrong choice of where to go next in Fiona Apple’s discography, but I can’t help but suggest her 2012 album, The Idler Wheel. The Idler Wheel is still full of earworms, but it shows her getting a bit more experimental. Opening track “Every Single Night” is percussive and raw, and “Werewolf” carves new lyrical territory for the genre of breakup songs with some truly vicious lines. And although Fetch the Bolt Cutters caught a lot of people by surprise last year, you can hear some of its sound forming in the truly one-of-a-kind, nearly a capella “Hot Knife.” Up until Fetch the Bolt Cutters, this was my favorite of her albums, and I know you’ll love it. 

Where you’ll end up 

The cover art for Fiona Apple's album Fetch the Bolt Cutters, image from Freegal
Fetch the Bolt Cutters (image from Freegal)

There is nothing I can say about Fetch the Bolt Cutters that hasn’t already been said by music journalists and award committees aside from the fact that it is simply very, very good. It pulls the jazz influence from her early material, the rock influence from her later material, and breaks new ground, with tracks inspired by cabaret, choral music, and radio-friendly piano rock. Downbeat, earnest female singer-songwriters are enjoying a moment in the limelight right now, but we wouldn’t have Phoebe Bridgers without the work that Fiona Apple has been putting in for the last three decades, and this album proves it. If you haven’t listened to Fetch the Bolt Cutters yet, you can listen to it for free on Freegal, so thank me for my recommendation later. 

What was your favorite music from last year? I would guess that some of it is available on Freegal, so I would strongly recommend looking around to see what treasures you can find. And no matter what you find, you can always stream Fiona Apple for free. I know I will be doing just that. 

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