The deluge of almost theatrically glowing praise surrounding Fiona Apple’s latest album—and in particular, Pitchfork’s 10 out of 10 rating—points to a way larger problem in music criticism about idealizing a certain type of establishment, well-known, well-treaded work and artist at the expense of others who are genuinely pushing the boundaries of their genres, music as an art, and music as an industry.

Want to raise your heart rate? Look at this image. Want to raise your heart rate? Look at this image.

It’s not just Pitchfork, of course. A ton of major publications are joining in. The New Yorker calls Apple’s album “ferociously individual” and lavishes much praise on her lyrics, which are “hyper-articulate, introspective screeds about ex-boyfriends” (the height of art now, apparently), and The New York Times calls it “a bold, cathartic, challenging masterpiece.” Slate has named it the “unofficial album of the pandemic.” Vulture say it has “singular sonic experiments: dogs barking, supermodels meowing, chanting, bells.” (Spoiler, none of that stuff sounds particularly crazy. I mean, we heard Frank just concatenate a full-on interview onto the end of his album four years ago. But I guess that’s just silly “youth culture,” and this is art…right?)

Don’t get me wrong. This is not to hate on Fiona Apple, or the segment of the indie (the term is used loosely, here) music scene she operates in—predominantly white and still largely based in traditional instrumentation like piano and guitar. We vibe to your typical middle-aged white person growling along to a keyboard just as much as anyone—we’re huge fans of LCD Soundsystem. Admittedly, not our favorite type of music, but is it anyone’s? I dare you to name more than one person under the age of forty who calls themselves a fan of Fiona Apple. But, obviously, I can still appreciate it for what it is. Hell, I even like a few Fiona Apple songs myself. But listening to the album—it’s sure as hell not the album of the decade, it’s certainly not perfect, it’s not even genius, really, and you can tell that within the first twenty seconds of the first song.

I’m not even saying the album isn’t good. I enjoy it a reasonable amount, actually. There’s some powerful vocals, some cool moments. And it’s definitely more interesting than, like, an Ed Sheeran album. But it’s a far cry from the most interesting—I mean, the album doesn’t even have vibe differentiation—managing to make each song stylistically and atmospherically distinct, varying more than just the melody and lyrics, while still making it cohesive within its larger place in the theme and sound of the album—in its songs, which is like, the bare minimum hallmark of any so-called “masterpiece.”

Calling this album “revolutionary” because there’s a couple of weird noises and cacophonic sounds and a maybe slightly atypical album cover—c’mon, really? By that logic, every Death Grips album is the album of the decade. Major artists in other, non-middle-aged-white-indie genres have been daring to scream louder, have even stranger and weirder, more distorted noises and crazier production, to have more iconic, bolder, and more controversial lyrics, and be more experimental and crazy. “No music has ever sounded quite like it?” Then why, in the first ten seconds of listening to a song, I can swear I’ve listened to the same song by an all-female ’90s and early-2000s indie band from the Pacific Northwest before? Why do I feel like I’m listening to some combination of Florence Welch and Regina Spektor and, like, Norah Jones occasionally, except just less enjoyable? Like, Kanye’s been screaming and making stuff we didn’t even know could be called music (until it was) since 2013. And everyone, from clipping. to Blood Orange has been doing it since. If you think rage and rawness and “non-radio-friendliness” is novel, you’re at least seven years behind the curve.

Fetch the Bolt Cutters feels more conceptually akin to the revolutionary risk-taking of saint Yoko Ono”—I don’t even know where to start with this. There are so many parts of this statement I want to address, it’s like—“Saint Yoko Ono?” (Yoko Ono, really?)—this is the kind of thing where you read it and you’re like: you hear yourself right?

It wouldn’t be a problem to simply appreciate the best parts of the album and maybe forget to criticize or notice its flaws. After all, all music is subjective, right? But that’s not really the issue. The issue is that the response to “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” feels like part of a larger cultural problem of idealizing honestly-not-that-interesting work made by established, older (white) artists and discounting people who are truly pushing the field forward—often artists who are at the very start of their careers and don’t have major labels backing them and music journalists salivating after their every release, who aren’t part of a dominant narrative.

How in the world is Blonde a 9.0 when this album is a 10? How is Telefone an 8.0? Why is serpentwithfeet’s soil—one of the most vulnerable, in-depth, experimental, strange, ethereal, and daring albums I’ve heard in the last two years, which offers a “complex vision of queer love”, then only an 8.1 on Pitchfork? Why is Rostam’s Half-Light, which absolutely smashes the boundaries of production and genre and infuses influences from old East-Asian folk music into pop and indie-electronic—and has every feeling from the joyous strings on Gwan to the quiet intimacy of I Will See You Again to the fun and unexpected sweetness of ‘two boys, one to kiss your neck and one to bring you breakfast,’—then only a 7.2? Why is the screaming, piercing techno of Against All Logic’s 2017-2019 less raw and interesting and daring than indie wailing? (That album’s a 7.9 according to Pitchfork. I didn’t even like that album, I don’t even listen to Against All Logic, but if you’re going to grade albums on “novelty” and “nothing sounding quite like it” and “rawness” it’s five ages above anything we’re hearing on this album.) Why do artists like Roy Blair, Ryan Beatty, Arthur Moon, Choker, and even Healy, Monsune, and Kai Whiston (who makes some of the most violent, jarring, electric, head-smashing and weird music I’ve ever heard, so much so that even I at times hesitate to call it music, and we all know if Kanye released an album of silence, I’d hear it) not even have a single entry on Pitchfork?

soil slaps. go listen soil slaps, go listen

Yeah, it’s one rating, by one music review site (albeit the most respected one out there—besides this blog, of course) but nonetheless it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating because Fiona Apple is getting lauded for music that’s one, been done before, and two not half as good as what’s out there. What’s more frustrating is that we know why it’s happening, because it happens this way for everything. If you need a hint, take the Oscars.

And hey, I get what this sounds like. You can argue we’re just complaining that artists we think are genius aren’t being paid enough attention. Maybe. Music’s subjective after all, isn’t it? You can say—hey, all music criticism is suss and who even cares? True. But there’s a larger point being made here, about questions like—who do we consider “genius”? Who gets to define culture? Which voices do we emphasize, and whose do we neglect? Who gets to define what the canon is, of any given form of art, whether it be music or literature or COOKING (ahem French food), and how do we continually recognize that what gets put in canon is not often the “greatest” but “most known and most appealing to the biases of the handful of curators”?

This problem is so goddamn universal, it’s scary. A couple weeks ago I wasted 3 hours of my life reading Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom — what was supposed to be “The Great American Novel” (not my words, search it up). And you know what that book was? It wasn’t even bad, god I wish it was bad. It was straight-up nothing special. Honestly, it could have been one of the many books crammed into the romance section of an airport bookstore, the you-might-pick-it-up-on-a-whim-and-read-it-on-the-plane-until-looking-out-the-window-gets-more-interesting type, you know? But this man, Franzen, friend of David Foster Wallace, white man savior of literature, writes a trashy romance novel and people are like, wait … is this art?

Conclusion: don’t read Pitchfork, stop celebrating establishment mediocrity, and listen to the people who are actually doing interesting shit: people who are young, new on the music scene, maybe only an EP or a single LP into their music careers, whose visions have complexity and who are seven years ahead of the curve instead of seven years behind it.