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Album Of The Week

Pants On Fire: Fibs By Anna Meredith
Anna Cafolla , October 24th, 2019 08:23

The new album by Anna Meredith is a boundary-crossing, multiphagous masterpiece, finds Anna Cafolla

Navigating both politics and pop culture right now can feel like swimming through a swampy, false dichotomy, a goopy trilemma of lies, sinister truths, and mistruths. This is the era of the feted grifter, personal brands crafted on identity-sucking platforms, of the celebrity politician and governments welcoming their own evisceration. But what’s in a white lie to soothe and comfort? An expertly constructed fable inflated and exaggerated to entertain?

Fibs, Anna Meredith shares in a statement included in the press release, are “lies – but nice friendly lies, little stories and constructions and daydreams and narratives that you make for yourself or you tell yourself”. Telling you I found deep emotional satiety in an album’s 176bpm, tuba-bloated, hair-metal traversing lead single might feel like just another playful fudge, but I swear, it’s really not.

On Meredith’s second studio album, introduced to listeners with the ravishing allegrissimo of ‘Paramour’, the chasms between hulking genres like electronica, classical music, rock, pop and cinematic score are crossed and avalanched upon. The juxtaposition of sounds, ideas, and forms that should be illogical are made fluid and sensical– and when they do chafe, they do so gloriously. This forty-five minute long, kaleidoscopic collection of tracks is imbued with a visionary but playful mischievousness – important traits for the best kind of fibs, too – that empowers it to be innovative, thrilling, and just simply, loads of fun.

FIBS arrives three and a half years on from the Scottish musician and composer’s lauded debut album Varmints, a galactic 8-bit journey through her maximalist, experimental mind and pop sensibility. Varmints presented Meredith’s untameable musical terrain, melding acoustic instruments with synths, showcasing galaxy-expanding ideas. Meredith has spent a two decade-long career pushing her boundaries from experimental art to ads – she’s been composer-in-residence with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soundtracked fashion campaigns for Chloe and Prada as well as brands like Apple. She’s created orchestral arrangements for Laura Marling and Sigur Ros and lift music for M&S, done a killer Tiny Desk Concert, shook down festival crowds the world over, and put out some cosmic remixes. She’s scored Bo Burnham’s triumphant film Eighth Grade, taught youth orchestras, made music for park benches in Hong Kong, explored body percussion with the impressive Hands-Free performances. Now arriving with FIBS, Meredith brings together her vast skills and perspective, casting off the old Midi-patches of her debut to widen her soundscape, retooled for a seismic sonic spacewalk.

The record hurtles straight past the restrained bubo of other similarly cerebral album’s opening tactics, choosing a direct, intravenous hit. ‘Sawbones’, with its anxiety-ridden, arpeggiated synths, experiments with the same 90s trance euphoria that pumps through the heart of Jenny Hval’s pop-traversing recent release, The Practice of Love. At its agitated peak, it about-turns to sound like it would complement a Bratpack movie: a teenage hero hurtling on his bike to get the girl, before cliff-diving into a techno screamer. ‘Killjoy’ is a visceral, rock opera delight that’s busting for a Jim Kerr vocal, and ‘Bump’ soars with glam rock guitars and an unexpected tuba ensemble. ‘Moonmoons’ is a lonely whalesong, flickering between synths and strings, the album’s anchor in what future-facing classical music can do, strengthened across the record with her fearless use of acoustic, orchestral, and electronic instruments and techniques. It evokes PC Music as much as it does Krzysztof Penderecki, bombastic Bandcamp compilations of grassroots electro to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.

FIBS follows on the vocal and lyrical exploration she began on Varmints, a welcome element that opens it up even more so to popheads. “The lines that you drew seem all crooked and wrong now,” she sings sweetly on ‘Divining’, vocal harmonies a delight. ‘Inhale Exhale’ is an all-round, exuberant gem, her most pop tune ever, her voice dancing across aural chaos.

Meredith flexes her composer muscles as a skilled arranger, the sequences ripping you from soothing moments of dreamy electro pop to discombobulating, cello-screaming panic. It evokes the spiky, excitable feeling I align with my teenage years of music discovery, the sensual blue screen as you scroll Last.FM for new genres, tapping out a beat that echoes the thud of your heart when the Limewire download proves successful (and not a Trojan virus), the thrill of sounds and subcultures from places far from your own community. It’s a rare thing, to feel both immersed in nostalgic feverdream and experiencing a wigged-out look at the future.

With its huge, graceful scope, FIBS smirks slyly at any presumptions or hopes listeners may harbour. These fibs are alive – a thriving, amoebic album consuming the petri dish in which it was formed.