All sorts of unexpected electronic glory from the edge of post-classical world
‘Varmints’, now there’s an album title to savour. Is what we have here a collection of sharp-toothed little pests, lithe, muscular and potentially quite dangerous? The album starts with the explosive ‘Nautilus’, a big brassy ass-swinger of post-classical attitude. It riffs its way through a few minutes of massed horns like a rampant bull smashing the contents of your china shop and leaving the place fantastically wrecked. It’s the kind of thing King Crimson might have done in their pomp had Robert Fripp been an exponent of the tuba rather than the guitar. In its foreboding intervals and mathematical construction, it rather recalls Crimson’s mightily scary 1974 album ‘Red’. The introduction of some dubstep wubba wubba into proceedings, a slo-mo boom-smack percussion part against the run of the skittish horns, reveals the Meredith approach: she does not give a fuck.
‘Nautlius’ comes from 2013’s ‘Black Prince’ EP, a release which showcased a new kind of composer, a public musician, working live with orchestras on brave pieces, one trained in the rigours of classical formalism, disciplined and at ease writing for traditional orchestral instruments, yet equally schooled in the university of pop. Part of Meredith’s modus operandi appears to be to cherry-pick recognisable genre markers from, say, heavy metal, or techno, or whatever kind of rock the Pixies were, and then holding them up to scrutiny by using them in ways that are just not cricket.
So you’ll get ‘Taken’, which borrows some Joey Santiago guitar scree and those Pixies chord selections which are just so, and splices them to multi-layered girl/boy vocals delivered in a most un-rock ’n’ roll way. It sounds a little like the vocals Eno used to revel in putting on his albums, which later explode into a stellar heavenly chorus. The whole lot is underpinned by a constant arpeggiating synth, a regular feature throughout the album.
Meredith, who’s in her late-30s, is young enough for all this electronica to be second nature; she’s a modern electronic native. You can hear it in the stabbing house keyboards of ‘Something Helpful’, over which she pitches her high and pure voice, sounding like Maddy Prior or Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier and Mary Hansen, and it is a delight. Her synth chops are also all over the noisenikery of ‘R-Type’ which also splices some pretty alarming guitar screams into its four minutes.
Anna Meredith was Goldie’s mentor on the TV documentary ‘Classical Goldie’, where we saw what could happen when an artist previously defined by a genre chooses to vault out of it. Electronic music has always encouraged new thinking, there’s something about the machines that encourage it. ‘Varmints’ is as impolite as it is pretty, unexpected and unpredictable. With magpie kleptomania it skips across genres, swiping textures and ideas for their individual appeal rather than to order, and then piles them up until they look very cool all over again.