Anna Meredith's Varmints
by Elena Badillo
It’s hard to imagine that an artist with a remarkably brilliant, decade long musical career has just had a full-length debut. But the timing in Anna Meredith’s Varmints is, at most, as unorthodox as its content and as its author.
After spending several years as a successful composer-in-residence for the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Meredith immersed herself into electronic music, eventually starting to experiment with it, blending it with her classical underpinnings. Of course, the intersection between classical and electronic music is not at all unexplored territory, but Meredith goes much further here, seeming to purposefully merge the “real” and the synthetic in ways that boost each other’s sonic power and taking that idea to its final consequence.
Varmints displays both extremely well crafted instrumentation, and an overwhelming creative freedom. Opening with the operatic “Nautilus”, Varmints takes you through playful crescendos in “Scrimshaw”, progressive synth rock in “R-Type”, hectic abstract polyphony in “Shill”, pure ambient sounds in “Honeyed Words”, and even an addictive Nirvana-esque chorus in “Taken” (probably the only hook in the album). And, yes, it makes a hell lot of sense. B PLUS
Ty Segall's Emotional Mugger
by Marshall Gu
His first proper studio album over a year—a wait that’s basically forever in this prolific artist’s language—trims the fat away from Manipulator and trades that album’s T. Rex-inspired tunes for something dirtier and something more experimental. As experimental as a straight-shooter guitar rock lover like Segall gets, anyway: “Californian Hills” jerks you through sudden changes of pacing; he smashes two different songs into one entity on “Emotional Mugger / Leopard Priestess”; “W.U.O.T.W.S.” is a sound collage by way of the Velvet Underground’s “The Murder Mystery” (interesting but ultimately annoying). I still think he’s a make-your-own playlist artist: I can get down to the noise-drenched choruses of “Squealer” but I find the verses anemic; the climax of the cover of the Equals’ “Diversion” feels mechanical despite drummer Charles Moothart’s best efforts (though the rest of the song is just fine: the Beatlesque “na-na-na” adding a melodic component to the noise propelled by Moothart’s hi-hat). The main two highlights are the strutting “Mandy Cream” and the bass-heavy closer “The Magazine,” with rapid-fire handclaps coming in during the choruses and a sustained falsetto melody recalling Yes’ “We Have Heaven.” B
by Grant Rindner
You aren’t getting a ton of sonic diversity from song to song on Porches’ new record Pool, but there’s plenty to immerse yourself in on the best sad white person dance record of 2016. For his latest album, Aaron Maine, the man behind Porches, has embraced an electronic flair winds up meshing pretty well with his clear DIY roots, an impressive pivot for an artist with a decent amount of music under his belt already. Instead of being filled to the top with slacker guitar riffs, Pool stacks layers of synths into pleasing, if a bit repetitive, shapes. Maine isn’t a terrific singer, but his alto/falsetto crooning compliments the undeniably infectious production. Tracks like “Underwater,” “Glow,” and lead single “Be Apart” are especially noteworthy, built around strong hooks and memorable melodies. The record is a bit too downtempo to be ideal party music, but it’ll make a killer soundtrack for your walk home from the party. B
Suede's Night Thoughts
by Marshall Gu
Suede’s comeback so far circumvents the more embarrassing moments of their discography by aiming for their self-titled debut sans the tune or the orchestral drama of Dog Man Star without the darkness; taking absolutely zero chances in between because they’re smart lads who know their fans want to hear the old sounds a second time. See also: Mazzy Star; Boards of Canada; Guided by Voices; My Bloody Valentine. Truthfully, only the orchestrated late-night wandering of “When You Are Young” with its big bombastic drums does anything for me. The band certainly knew they had a solid sound there—they repeat it for a reprise and reference it again in the closer. Does anyone hear anything that resembles a distinct melody? I certainly don’t, not even in the two singles; most of the songs here scrape by with a loud guitar tone; “No Tomorrow” has a well-intended chug. On the other end of the spectrum, they soak “Pale Snow” with reverb and by the time “Learning To Be” finally gets started, it just ends and you realize you’ve listened to a 3-minute interlude. Add production issues that have marred the bulk of their discography to the lack of tune and we have something that never lifts off: everything sounds mixed at the same level, resulting in mush. Nostalgia’s easy; it’s also useless. C PLUS