In describing her recent collaborative piece with 59 Productions, “Five Telegrams,” to The Guardian, Anna Meredith shrugged off the idea that it had to fit in anywhere specific: “There’s a beat, there’s a rhythm. Who cares about those distinctions any more?” Since the release of her innovative, head-turning 2012 EP Jet Black Fury, Meredith has built an entire career around belonging nowhere and everywhere at once. She’s an accomplished composer from the modern classical world, but she puts that academic background to work in making music that often sounds more like pop—at least some form of it. There aren’t many pop artists crafting compositions as dynamic and appealingly strange as “Nautilus,” the booming opener to her stellar 2016 album Varmints, but it has a bounce and a bass thump that feels more at home on car stereos than coliseum stages. In essence, only Anna Meredith does what Anna Meredith does, and as Varmint proved, what she does is as compelling as it is puzzling.
Its follow-up, FIBS, comes after a series of other interesting, non-studio-full-length projects for Meredith that revealed just how far reaching both her vision and abilities reach, as if her revelatory debut wasn’t enough. In the summer of 2018, she released her score to the acclaimed film Eighth Grade, then followed that up with her unique interpretation of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons on Anno. Couple that with the grand production of “Five Telegrams,” an audiovisual presentation that also featured the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, and it would appear that Meredith’s checking a lot off of her career accomplishments checklist in a relatively short amount of time. In context, FIBS feels a lot more like, well, a pop record—the kind of pop record that only Meredith could dream up.
While clearly Meredith can change lanes and approaches quite naturally and nimbly, it’s in maximalist, sensory-overload mode in which she often shines. “Paramour,” the first single released from the album, is the sound of what seems like an arpeggiator on the verge of overheating as the intensity escalates and escalates until reaching a climax that sounds like Led Zeppelin interpreted via tuba. It’s a lot of fun. Even more than that, it’s just a lot. Elsewhere, Meredith employs a Battles-like math-pop bounce on the ever-expanding “Sawbones,” brings back the tuba for an off-kilter rock ‘n’ roll strut in “Bump,” and even explores some gorgeously spacious terrain in “moonmoons” and “Calion.”
One element that’s more prominently featured on FIBS is Meredith’s literal voice, which gives tracks like “Inhale Exhale” a more sweetly human core amid the manically firing synthesizers and dizzying rhythms. It occasionally feels strangely out of place—the reach toward accessibility occasionally feels like a compromise that sacrifices some of her most inventive instincts, but a pretty song is still a pretty song. Yet were she not speaking actual words, we’d still be hearing Meredith’s voice loud and clear on FIBS, which is both a cohesive and accessible distillation of the various musical ideas she’s pursued over the past decade, as well as a logical next step after the outstanding Varmint. The question of where it belongs, however, can be easily answered—in your headphones, on your turntable, anywhere you need a burst of imagination.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.