The track, Ribbons, is available from:
The album, FIBS, is available here:
25th October, 2019
Moshi Moshi/Black Prince Fury
I was going to review the new album…
PHOTO CREDIT: Leah Henson for The Skinny
from Josh Homme and his crew - Desert Sessions, Vol. 11/12 is a magnificent album. I might shelve that until tomorrow, because it is quite hard to get photos of the full band; they consist various musicians and figures and, whilst led by Josh Homme, there are others in the mix. Instead, with FIBS out in the world, I want to concentrate on the sensational Anna Meredith. Before I focus on a review of Ribbons – my favourite track from the album -, I want to talk about a few different things. I will discuss artists and how they progress/evolve; putting focus away from mainstream acts and looking at areas of the U.K. still overlooked. I will also address female composers and artists who are acting as role models; Classic and Electronic music for the young and a sense of joy and energy in the music industry – and how it is really needed right now. Like many out there, Anna Meredith is synonymous with her incredible compositions. She mixes Electronic music into an album Classical world; making these grand and exotic songs that spark the mind. Varmints was released in 2016 and it is one of these albums that needs to be listened to. If you are fresh to Electronic music, then it might seem a little brash, experimental and strange. I grant that, but when it was released a few years back, I had never heard anything like it! It was a true eye-opener for someone like me. Great artists like Meredith are always moving and looking to see where they can go next. FIBS is an album that puts Meredith’s voice more to the fore. If Varmints was an album defined by a sense of drama and compositional busyness, FIBS is a little looser; it has more light and colour working away. Meredith is a great singer, and, on her new album, she has recorded some of her finest tracks.
When speaking with Vanity Fair recently, she talked about FIBS and the changes she encountered:
“She started thinking about making Fibs a few years ago, but got sidetracked by other opportunities that kept her busy. “I’ve lost the ability to relax. I just sort of feel completely wired the entire time, where I’m sort of manically jumping from one thing to another,” she said. “But I think that I work best when I’m busy.” After she toured for her debut album, 2016’s Varmints, she took on a slew of commissions and collaborative work, including her sprightly and memorable score for last year’s film Eighth Grade. “I was ready to keep going, and then just cool stuff came up—with the film, and I wrote a big orchestral thing. I just kept putting it off to do other stuff,” she said. “But when I’m writing, it means I’m just in the studio or chained to my desk, and I’m not touring.” Recording really started last October and November, partially with the goal of getting back out into the world to perform once she was done.
But she’s also had to grow her confidence in her own abilities as a performer. “I’ve always loved singing, but I never thought I had a lead-singer voice,” she said. “For a while, I thought, Oh, the thing to do is to get someone else on this. But now it actually feels more important to be authentic and say that this is who all these people are. This is the music we love, and this is how we sound doing it”
You would be hard-pressed to compare FIBS to Meredith’s past works. Meredith has always been this engaging and terrific live performer, but FIBS alters things, in the sense Meredith is sort of more at the centre; her vocals will be a big part of her set. I wonder why she decided to put her voice more into the mix. I am not sure, but it was a great decision and it moves Meredith’s music forward. I do think it is savvy and sensible moving your music on and trying something different. If FIBS was a big album with very few vocals, I don’t think it would be as remarkable as one that puts Meredith in the fore.
Although Meredith was born in London, she moved to South Queensferry at the age of two. She is one of these artists that is still so young; yet has done so much already. Not only does she have a degree in Music, but she has as master’s degree from the Royal College of Music. I think too many of us, as I have explained in reviews, get too caught up in our habits and personal tastes. Do we spend time looking away from our comfort zone and embrace something new? Some of us do, but I think too many are resigned to their usual routines. I am guilty of this, and I am trying to change my ways. I got into Meredith’s music a couple of years back and have loved exploring her enormously impressive and immersive sound. A lot of the music I listen to sort of sinks into the mind and provides cheer. I rarely think about the song itself and how it came together. With Meredith, I listen to her music and consider how it started life and how it sort of got to where it is. Rather than just pass it by, the music is engrossing and spellbinding. As a result of this more forensic approach, I have been listening to a lot of Electronic music and actually rekindling a passion for Classical. I used to listen a lot when I was younger but sort of put it aside when I got older. It is a shame, because I think we assume Classical music is all the same and it is a bit dull. That has never been the case, yet I can understand why some might avoid the genre. Now, there are some wonderful composers and innovators taking the form to new places. Anna Meredith is, as I shall explain later, is this accomplished composer who is inspiring others and making Electronic and Classical music more accessible and nuanced.
I do think there is a lot of great new music out there from the genres, and many of us are missing out. We do need to let go of the safe and comforting; take a little look around the musical hemisphere and start dipping our toes into the water of difference. That may seem patronising, but how many of us genuinely take leaps or listen to music that we would not normally do so?! I think a lot of us are culpable. Meredith is part of a generation that is taking music to new heights. FIBS has already received a load of positive reviews and, whilst its creator is stunned and moved by the kind words, it is no surprise FIBS is garnering such heady acclaim. I think so many genres are getting stiff and there is not enough exploration and endeavour. Some artists do mix it up but, when we consider Anna Meredith, she is pushing boundaries and blowing the mind. This is a strained and tense time and, when you listen to Anna Meredith’s strange and beautiful brews, you are comforted, lifted and inspired. In a press release, Anna Meredith described FIBS as: “lies – but nice friendly lies, little stories and constructions and daydreams and narratives that you make for yourself or you tell yourself”. That sounds about right. Rather than create escapism and distract us from the world around, we are given these songs that tracks that are powerful and potent, but they provide a smile, kiss and cushion against the vicissitudes of modern life. I also wanted to review Anna Meredith because of her Scottish roots. I still think the nation gets overlooked regarding music. It is a shame because, when you look back, so many classic acts have called Scotland home. Whilst Meredith started life in England, I associate her as a Scottish artist. She has worked with musicians and orchestras in her country, and she is helping to bring more eyes and ears to a rich and stunning nation.
I will get to reviewing Meredith’s FIBS – or a song from it, more accurately -, but I want to talk about female composers and how changes are starting to happen. Look back at her career, and she has already packed so much in! Meredith mixes acoustic and electric tones like nobody else. She is one of these composers that is impossible to define and categorise. She has seen her work performed at the BBC Last Night of the Proms and been featured in numerous films and festivals. Her music transcends borders and limits. She has been featured right across BBC radio; had her music played at fashion shows and clubs and, like no other artists around, straddled worlds and cultures. There are few artists alive today that have such a wide-ranging appeal and can stand out so firmly – I can only think of Kate Bush right now. She is published by a new partnership between Warp Publishing & Faber Music Publishing, and she is one of the first Somerset House Studios Residents. She has been Composer in Residence with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, RPS/PRS Composer in the House with Sinfonia ViVA; the Classical music representative for the 2009 South Bank Show Breakthrough Award and winner of the 2010 Paul Hamlyn Award for Composers. Meredith is still so young, and there is no telling just how far she can go. As a composer and innovator, she is opening doors for artists coming through and inspiring so many people. Although Meredith has achieved so much and is a much-celebrated artist, we are still living in a time when female composers are overlooked. Electronic and Classical music are fields where women are not as represented and exposed as they should be in terms of their commitment and talent. Before bringing in an interview where Meredith is asked about gender in music, I want to introduce a feature, where Meredith’s clear gifts and brilliance is spotlighted:
“Composer, producer and performer Anna Meredith is considered one of the most innovative voices in contemporary British music. Her work travels seamlessly across genres, from contemporary classical to art pop, electronica and experimental rock. “She is somebody who has rewritten the rulebook” said Helen Wallace, Programme Director at Kings Place, whose new season focuses on women composers and has Meredith as one of their cover stars.
PHOTO CREDIT: Gem Harris
This organic process also translates in the way Meredith creates, by drawing the graphic structure that she wants her score to take. “I always felt music quite instinctively,” she explains, “and I always liked music that has a very clear shape to it, a clear identity. It took me a long time to figure out that [drawing] was a helpful way to plan composing. It wasn’t until I was doing my postgrad that someone suggested drawing a sort-of map for the piece, and I have done that ever since. I have the shape that I am trying to make work, and I try to audition my own ideas to fit into that shape."
Meredith worked on several sound installations around the world. Among her favourites is one she made as part of Music for a Busy City, a project for the Manchester International Festival. Set in a shopping centre, it used two glass lifts as a medium to make music: electronic tones changed according to their movements, and choosing floors created different harmonies, in what Meredith described as a "chorale for lifts". “I really liked doing the installation work that I have done, because you have to distill an idea down to something very focused, and if it’s very site specific," she says. "If you are trying to make a particular area, I like to be in that area and think how I could enhance or change or subvert the experience of being there. I think it is a nice way to let people dip in and out of something musical. I loved the lift piece, because it was playful and you could just chance across it, and I think that combination of people intentionally visiting and people simply doing their shopping is a really nice one”.
Whilst there are wonderful artists like Anna Meredith around, she is working in genres where men are more revered and considered.
PHOTO CREDIT: Gem Harris
She was asked about Classical concerts and the fact they are male-dominated still.
“It’s no surprise that concert programmes are still dominated by male composers. Surely we should be moving on? Are quotas essential, or irritating?
It’s healthy to have the discussion. Things are changing. Weighting a programme towards greater female or sexual or racial diversity – composers, conductors, performers – has to be progress. We still need mechanisms for pushing us towards a more naturally balanced state. But that takes time to happen naturally and spontaneously. Yes, it’s annoying, I guess, to be told, when you get a job, “and it’s great you’re a woman”, but I’m glad they’re even thinking about it.
Why hasn’t there been a #MeToo equivalent in classical on the scale of Hollywood?
To be honest I don’t know. I don’t feel so aware because I’m mostly working on my own in a room. I’m not in an orchestra or circumstances where that might be more obvious. That said, I know musicians are sharing their stories on websites like shebangsthedrum.org. One reason – and maybe it sounds superficial – is that the key figures in classical music aren’t as well known, beyond a handful, as those in Hollywood, so the stories that have come out haven’t grabbed the headlines in the same way”.
Maybe Meredith works solo a lot of the time and the various struggles faced in the Classical world are not put in front of her quite as explicitly as they would be if she was in an orchestra. Even in Electronic music, we still see too much imbalance; women are not as coveted as the men. I think music does need a movement next year that tackles gender imbalance and sexism. Meredith is one of the finest and most original composers in the world; she is motivating so many female artists to strike and shout loud.
I will combine a couple of topics because, as you can appreciate, I want to crack on and review a track! When it comes to Classical music especially, many consider it is for a slightly ‘older’ listener. There are modern composers and performers who are making Classical modern and updating the sound. Rather than upset purists, I think evolving and bold artists like Anna Meredith are mixing Classical heartbeats together with acoustic moments and Electronic fizz. It means she is recruiting listeners who, like me, love Classical music but has been a bit wary the last few years. I do think we live in a time where certain genres are isolated, or they reserved for certain radio stations. We have Scala Radio – a new station that is bringing a lot of modern Classical into the mix. I think artists like Anna Meredith are bridging the gaps between the older generations who are more purist, and younger listeners who crave something more experimental and modern. Not only is Meredith compelling and hugely inspiring; she is also bringing plenty of joy and uplift into her music. There are some uplifting songs around, but I think there are too many areas that are plagued by dread, gloom and moodiness. That is okay, I guess, but we need some balance and music that can give us positivity. Meredith is an artist who has a wide palette; FIBS seems less intense and more accessible than her debut, Varmints. In fact, I think Meredith is just moving in a slightly new direction and does not want to repeat herself. Rather than repeat what she has already done, FIBS is an album that keeps her core sound intact whilst moving in forward and adding in new elements. I chose Ribbons to review, as I think there is so much to enjoy. One is uplifted but, like all Meredith’s tracks, there is so much depth. I have played the song a few times and I am still discovering bits and bobs that alluded me before.
I chose to review Ribbons, as I think it provides a great contrast to the more bombastic songs on the album. Even if tracks like Killjoy provide greater intensity and rush, I think there is something beautiful and intriguing concerning Ribbons. In fact, before I start, I want to bring in a review snippet from The Independent, where they reference Ribbons:
“If the sweet, drifting “Ribbons” and wide-eyed finale “Unfurl” feel underwhelming, that’s probably relative to the album’s more daring soundworlds. FIBS highlights Meredith as a much-needed creative force. Her shape-shifting genre-defiance constantly surprises and intrigues, but it’s good to get back down to Earth afterwards”.
Meredith’s shape-shifting is never underwhelming: it is always fresh, original and welcomed. There are no meagre or slight tracks on FIBS at all. The start of Ribbons brings in a static heartbeat that is firm and powerful. It is almost like a pulse, and a sound that drew me in. Rather than build too much energy or give too much away early, Meredith employs this emotive heartbeat that intrigues the listener. In terms of the story, Meredith talks about a ghost from her past; someone she holds close and has this connection with. In fact, you get this ethereal aspect running through the song. It is almost like Meredith is this benign observer that is floating through the air. We hear electronic glitches and little interjections that bring new elements into the music. Maybe not as loaded and emphatic as some of her other tracks, instead, Ribbons has this distinct beauty and soulfulness that is augmented by these ripples and electronic veins. There is a real physicality to the song that really spoke to me. The composition continues to evolve and bend as Meredith talks about a “line that we can’t cross”. It makes me wonder whether Ribbons refers to something romantic.
I think Meredith is looking further afield than her own heart. In fact, there is an oblique edge to the lyrics that get you thinking. After a chorus of “Oh…uh-oh” – that are punctuated with little fizzes and nods from the composition -, Meredith talks about ribbons and purpose; this vision of disconnect or the need for cohesion. It is a fascinating song that does not reveal its truth as easily as other songs on FIBS. In terms of performance, Meredith shows she has real emotional range. There were some vocal touches on Varmints: FIBS is the first time where Meredith has utilised her voice in such a consistent and striking way. I got these images of, perhaps, a relationship of some kind that is being tested or needs to change. At the same time, I was imagining politics and the wider world. It is hard not to re-frame so many songs in a political context, given how the world is changing. Meredith’s voice is sweet and agile, but it has plenty of heart, strength and depth. As opposed crowding the song with too many layers and too much sound, we get ribbons of music that come and go. There is a lot going on in Ribbons, and there is this slightly deceptive nature. The compositional elements that we do hear add so much and gives the song a really strong visual dynamic. I was transported to an almost Gothic locale; a very quiet and still setting where this magic story takes place. Every spin of the song reveals a different interpretation and possibility. I have not seen any interviews where Meredith reveals the inspiration behind Ribbons and whether it is taken from her personal experiences. I have gone back into the song (as I say), and it is hard to hone in on a precise inspiration – each listener will have their own views. There is such variation through FIBS, and I like the fact there are more bubbly tracks and ones like Ribbons that have more of a calm demeanour. It is these polemics and variations that makes Meredith’s work so interesting and potent. If you have a moment today, check out Ribbons and immerse yourself in the wonder of FIBS.
I shall leave you all be because, as I can appreciate, I have gone on for a long time! Look back at Meredith’s career and all she has achieved. In 2017, she performed at SXSW in the U.S. with her band. She has collaborated with Laura Marling and The Stranglers for the 6Music Prom; commissions for various orchestras and brought her music around the world. Anna Meredith and her band are pretty busy over the next few months, so go and see them if you can. Meredith is one of the artists I want to interview and find out more about. She is fascinating, and I cannot wait to see where she heads next. When it comes to Anna Meredith, you never know what to expect! She is such a busy artist, and one that seems boundless in terms of energy and innovation. I have so much awe for her, and there are so many composers around the world that are taking a lead from her. With FIBS out there, a lot of eyes are trained the way of Anna Meredith. The reviews are coming in, and there is widespread praise. I want to end with an interview extract from The Line of Best Fit – she spoke with them in 2016 when promoting Varmints. She was asked about her unique sound and how she wants her music to connect:
“Meredith continues: “I’m not trying to bamboozle people; there are moments of complexity but they’re there to add contrast and relief to the moment, to show intimacy and to create a contrast. For me, it’s a very visceral thing. When something feels like it has power and I can feel it building, I can actually feel myself getting out of my seat and moving, clenching my fists quite often. That’s almost like my test, a litmus test for what I’m writing…if I can feel it, I’ve got it! And I believe anybody can feel that. I’ll play it to the band and see what they think but I feel like it’s got a universal sense to it – unless you’re like ‘I absolutely don’t want to listen to this’, and then you’re never going to get through that barrier. But if you get people prepared come with you on a journey of a build or on a [Meredith takes a breath] letting out of air or an exhalation, then that’s a wonderful communal experience. Like when you’re dancing together but even if you’re all following a progression. I did a great gig in Paris the other night; there was a bit more space and people were dancing and then it got to a certain point. You could tell they were coming with you on the journey. That’s an absolute joy, to do that”.
Three years after Varmints arrived, Anna Meredith is still moving, surprising and intoxicating listeners. FIBS is a remarkable record that will surely rank alongside the finest of this year. Even if you are new to Meredith’s music, you can listen and instantly connect. She has moments that take you aback and might seem odd; she can bring you right back in and sit right alongside her. FIBS is an album with so many highlights and, whilst I have selected mine, I would encourage people to buy/stream the album and listen to all the tracks. Anna Meredith is an exceptional composer, inspiring artist and…
A truly beautiful force.
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PHOTO CREDIT: Gem Harris
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