I don’t know how many people fall into the middle of a Venn diagram with these three circles: “likes contemporary classical music”, “likes video game music”, “likes nervy, anxious art-rock music”. But if you do find yourself at the centre of that diagram, as I find myself, then this record is perfect for you.
Anna Meredith is a classically trained composer who let her love of synthesizers and guitars get in the way. This is a great thing. On Varmints, booming sine waves and distorted guitars compete with traditional string and brass sounds, and it creates a sound palette that’s both singular and somehow cohesive. I was going to say that there’s been a change since her first EPs (Black Prince Fury and Jet Black Raider), in that about a third of Varmints also has singing, but now I realize a quarter of each EP also had singing. So I guess it hasn’t changed, but it’s more noticeable, played a little more as a feature instrument.
If you haven’t heard her stuff before, arpeggios are the name of Meredith’s game. Lots of sweeps up and down the scale, or not-quite-arpeggios that function as super notey, chaotic loops. She also has this quiet love of four-on-the-floor dance drum beats that sneaks up on you until the song crescendoes. Altogether, her music is very busy, with a fantastic sense of how to build, and manages to exude menace, anxiety, and the verve of being alive all at the same time. It’s almost like a declaration of, “Life is scary and ridiculous and a joy to be a part of.” This is exercise music for people who can’t stomach modern pop. In other words, this is exercise music for me.
For the most part, I can’t listen to vocal music while writing, so I’ve turned increasingly to instrumental music as my fingers become more and more fused to this keyboard over the years (Jesus, virtually all the meaningful work I do requires typing). Albums that unspool with each pass, revealing a little more, emoting a little more, developing nuance… they’re a rare thing. This record has stood up to repeated listening really well, and it’s done a fair job of matching any mood I throw at it. If mostly instrumental music that borrows from classical, video games, and guitar music sounds interesting to you, I’d really suggest you give it a whirl.
(Available for purchase in North America via iTunes; the Bandcamp link is only for your previewing pleasure.)