Varmints is the debut album by Scottish composer, electronic and acoustic musician Anna Meredith. It follows her two EPs, 2012’s Black Prince Fury and 2013’s Jet Black Raider. The music is complex, dynamic, varied, bombastic and confident. Meredith has shared bills with James Blake, These New Puritans and Anna Calvi and collaborated with Laura Marling and The Stranglers. Her impressive and varied cv also includes being composer in residence for the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, writing symphonies for kids and composing music for an MRI scanner.
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"Varmints" - what a word, very Elmer Fudd! - is Scottish composer and multi-instrumentalist Anna Meredith's debut album, and it starts very strikingly with "Nautilus"; looped acoustic instrumentation - trumpet, cornet, tuba - and then piles on blasts of brass over the top of that - it's a pulsing, hypnotic and lively piece as an opening statement of intent - additional layers are added including electro drums and oscillating "wubb-wubb"-ish bass and ends with a crescendo of - yes, you guessed it - brass.
"Taken" employs Anna's vocal talents, speak-singing in harmony with male vocalist Jack Ross, sounding very similar to Brian Eno, syncopated with staccato synthesizer, angular Pixies-style guitar and it's a very pretty thing. "Scrimshaw", next, is a sort of orchestral/IDM melange - syncopated again, with layered synths which build and build, some Bibio-type drums and intricate interplaying melodies and West African / hi-life type guitar. "Something Helpful" re-introduces Anna's vocal, solo this time, on top of house-tempo 4/4 beats and synth stabs and a nice bubbling bassline. The overall effect reminds me of Delphic at the poppy end of the electronic spectrum. The track builds with multiple layers of Anna's sweet singing voice. Very nice.
"R-Type" features pounding drums, multiple time-signature changes, throbbing multiple synths and keyboard flourishes. The effect is a bit Beethoven gone techno. It becomes very noisy indeed at the end with screaming distorted electric guitar. "Dowager" is a switch back to electro-pop mode with Anna and Jack combining vocals over arpeggiated synths, downtempo electro drums and twinkling guitar. "The Vapours" pairs two electric guitars, looped and locked together in one never-ending cosmic jam, battling with synths, cello, more synths, kettle drum... it's lovely, as it happens. It breaks down into Autechre-type IDM, before the layers of synth and strings are reintroduced and bursts of brass return in a sort of Holst-ian pop jamboree.
There are moments of startling originality on this record, which wears its many pop and classical influences on its sleeve. Anna's vocal is attractive - pitched midway between Julia Holter and Sarah Cracknell; she has the musicality and hints at experimentation of Holter and the pop nous of Cracknell. Anna's vocal crops up again on "Last Rose", "Shrill" is a very bombastic instrumental track with so many layers it's very difficult to deconstruct; there are loud metal-type guitars, heavy percussion and drums and speedy organ-like keys. "Blackfriars" closes the album in a very soothing fashion, soaring and swooping strings combine in a Sigur Ros type way in combination with organ and moments of contemplative pauses set against a ticking like a clock.
It heralds the end - sadly - of my thrilling journey with Anna and her amazing array of acoustics.
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