Anna Meredith‘s Fibs has haunted me for months. I have listened to it over and over, and to say I have found it enigmatic yet electrifying is underselling it. The compositions are by turns confrontational and comforting, abrasive and then warm. Meredith is a composer, a person with a unique sonic vision for a collective of musicians, and the form which she has chosen here is a wild arpeggiated-synth-pop-meets-post-rock-meets-brass-band amalgam. The chord changes are very composerly; they don’t go where the pop ear wants them to go, but after several listens it starts to feel like a necessary shift, a situation that couldn’t have been any different.
Take highlight “Inhale Exhale.” It starts off as a throwback ’80s arch-synth-pop jam. The vocal melody is beautiful and catchy; the lyrics are a compelling second-person statement of a friend suggesting that someone is lying to themself about things. But the chorus takes a hard left, moving out of a traditional pop space into a wordless ah section with an unusual chord shift and different mood. It’s a stark contrast. The rest of the song fleshes out these two moods/structures, building an unresolvable tension that is so engaging. “Killjoy” leans more over to the pop side of the spectrum, evoking texturally ambitious synth-pop bands of the last twenty years with great melodies. “Sawbones” goes full composer, creating a frantic, mindbending synth-pop composition that relies heavily on the sonically disorienting shepherd’s tone for its structure.
“Ribbons” is Meredith’s best interpretation of a ballad; “My goth twin, she sings / a song from past” she sweetly sings as a spacious, spartan landscape with tuba (!) gives Meredith space to effectively draw the listener into the world. This is a truly unique record, like nothing I’ve ever heard. Highly recommended.
One of my favorite records last year was Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy Reconfigured. Major EDM musicians took Daft Punk’s dark cyberpunk vision and amped up every aspect of it: more distortion, more big melodies, more gritty stuff, more techno thunder, etc. Fernando Lagreca‘s Infamous fits exactly into that vision: this is dancefloor-ready cyberpunk with lots of mystery, intrigue, and aggression. It filters all of those things into an easily-approachable amalgam; it doesn’t move into any of the subcultures it could by amping up any of its individual elements.
Instead, Lagreca’s work is accessible without being watered down and catchy without being pop songs in disguise. In other words, this is a top-shelf techno record that lots of different people in lots of different subcultures could get into. The four-on-the-floor “Galactic” is a great place to start as synths wander in and out of a locked-down-tight dance beat. “Tears of the Future” amps up the spacey aspects, drawing on arpeggiator sounds that immediately call up spaceship thoughts. Doomy bass heightens the drama. “Lone Condition” is a spy thriller that wouldn’t be out of place on RAC’s Master Spy soundtrack. Ultimately, it’s a totally satisfying, very excited collection of tracks that actually work together as a record while producing bangers. Good work, everyone! Highly recommended.
Summerooms is the immensely talented Joshua Aubrey Jackson‘s side-project–his main jam is Make Sure (and used to be Fiery Crash). Summerooms is the place where he experiments with his main sound (a nostalgic mix of acoustic folk, indie-pop, and emo). In The Heat of Summer, he tries out an enormous number of new ideas–not all work, but a whole lot do.
The core of his sound is still an acoustic guitar, but the tinkering runs wild on everything from there on. The title track is a Springsteen-ian epic with iconic snare action, underpinning synth, and a sense of reckless abandon that characterizes all the best Springsteen jams. (He tempers the Springsteen comparisons with stop-on-a-dime quiet sections.) “Turkey Vulture” is a bombastic riff-rocker that appears early in the record and lets the listener know that this is going to be a bit of an adventure.
“Lindsey Whatsherface” is one of the best tracks Jackson’s ever written, a twinkly, dreamy piece that calls up the best of American Football-style twinkle, Death Cab for Cutie-style indie-pop, and more. It’s led by Preslea Elliott’s subtle, careful vocals, which are the perfect foil to the arrangement. Similarly, “Pull Apart” is another highlight in the Jackson oeuvre, a breakup duet with Samantha Eason that shows off all of his indie-pop craft, arranging chops, engineering skills, and big heart. Eason’s emotive vocals are lovely, and the track is just front-to-back gorgeous.
Other tracks land with less force: opener “Red Sun” brings forward a great idea that doesn’t quite capitalize on its initial promise; “Hard to Sleep Hot” has a lyrical set that doesn’t quite connect, especially the initial couplet; the overall record feels long toward the end. The scope itself is part of the experiment–this is an explicit concept record, following the emotional contours of Psalm 32 (and also perhaps an on-again off-again relationship?). There are clear shout-outs at points, but overall the length and scope of the record make it hard to connect all the dots.
Still, the record sounds beautiful: Jackson is an expert engineer and songwriter, and even the “lows” are good songs if considered out of context. As Jackson continues growing as a songwriter and works with larger conceptual frames like these, I have no doubt that his deft touch with the other aspects of songcraft will mature as well. If nothing else, you’ve got to hear “Lindsey Whatsherface” and “Pull Apart.” They rule.