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Music Culture cheat sheet: Fiona Apple, Eliza Hittman, and more

Apr. 21, 2020
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Watch: Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020, dir. Eliza Hittman)

Women speak their own language, one that transcends the fickleness of words; womanhood a high-context culture. I’ve been trying to write this review for two afternoons, because it’s just so difficult to explain—you just know, you know? I’m reminded of the finale of Big Little Lies’ first season, where the women—and consequently, you as the viewer—just know who Jane’s rapist is just by their exchange of sharp looks; or the first episode of Fleabag’s second season, when Claire is in the bathroom with a miscarriage and Fleabag—and consequently, you as the viewer—just know. 

Never Rarely Sometimes Always tells the story of such a woman, and consequently, that same empathy. Seventeen-year-old Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) takes a trip from Pennsylvania to New York to get an abortion, the film never leaving her side—not even to reveal who the baby’s father is. It’s emotional without being melodramatic; it’s realist. Autumn’s struggle to have a successful abortion—having to go to another state for it, running out of money, being transferred to different clinics and having to come back another day—it’s all familiar, things we know to be true.

It’s a small story with big, big moments. Autumn’s only confidant is her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), who comes with her to New York. They’re surrounded by male entitlement, and they protect each other as if on instinct. Few words are shared between them—our protagonist isn’t much of a talker, not that she needs to be—but their connection is palpable. I wish it wasn’t pain that threaded them together, but it’s a relief to know they’re not alone.

The resolution in this film always came in the form of a woman, culminating in the extensive pre-abortion interview Autumn has in Planned Parenthood. It’s cathartic; even without directly revealing her trauma, we already understood. And we understood that for probably the first time in her life, she was in a safe space. 

No one could have pulled off this film like Eliza Hittman. Her silences are loaded and purposeful, her camera a thoughtful companion to her reserved protagonists. She was already a master storyteller in her previous feature, festival favorite Beach Rats, but in Never Rarely Sometimes Always, her craft is bolstered by her understanding of the subject. This movie is perfect.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always is available on digital.

Listen: Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple

My introduction to Fiona Apple was this Vulture interview released just last week. What followed was a rabbit hole of profiles and more interviews; I was completely enamored by her ability to call what she felt by name. Pain colors everything black and white—”I am hurt and angry and everything I feel is purely in the negative side of the spectrum”—but Apple speaks of complexity and nuance, and she’s right. In the Vulture piece, she talked about women’s tendency to accommodate their abusers, to justify their wrongdoing. “We’re very understanding, women. We want to take care of people. We want to protect people. But, please, not at the expense of ourselves anymore,” she said.

Fetch the Bolt Cutters is Apple’s internality spilled over. Her first album in eight years, she produced it exclusively in her Venice Beach home, incorporating its sounds: dogs barking (five dogs are credited!), tapping the walls, adding various non-instrument percussions. Her lyrics, as always, are honest and deeply personal. Her vulnerability is visceral and unbounded. I was always on the lookout for art about a pain that seemed so innate, like it lined your bones and you couldn’t escape it, in an attempt to understand and unravel it. I searched for music that was willing to forgive my mistakes, that mirrored my restlessness. Instead I found music that seemed to listen to me, each verse a release. Fetching the bolt cutters indeed.

For many nights now I’ve had Fiona Apple listening parties that were, of course, parties for one. But to talk about the album seems for naught. It got a 10 on Pitchfork. It’s Fiona Apple. You already know it’s good.

Listen to Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple on Spotify here.

Listen: “Think of Me” by Olivia Lunny

A month and a half into quarantine, bedroom dance parties become more and more welcome in my daily routine, with Olivia Lunny’s breakup anthem “Think of Me” on repeat. This radio-ready track about longing for a lost lover (might I say, a quarantine mood) matches lonely lyrics with lively, synth-rich beats, capturing the high-low mood so resonant now. 

Lunny has been writing music since she was 12. At 17, she released a self-titled EP, even being nominated for Pop Artist of the Year at the Western Canadian Music Awards. This led to an appearance in the CTV show The Launch, on which she was declared winner and recorded the Top 40 hit "I Got You." With her pop instinct and ability to balance emotionality and danceability, she’s a star waiting to rise. 

Listen to “Think of Me” here.