2020 Hyundai Mercury Prize A brief look into… Anna Meredith’s ‘FIBS’

Ahead of the 2020 Hyundai Mercury Prize, we’ve taken a brief look at the twelve shortlisted albums.

In many ways, the seeds for Anna Meredith’s superb album ‘FIBS’ were sown on her last studio release ‘Varmints’, which appeared in 2016. Over the previous decade, the Scottish musician had set herself apart as one of the classical world’s most exciting instrumental composers, but ‘Varmints’ saw her step boldly into glitchy and lush pop. Her debut ‘solo’ album, it had plenty of classical heft – opening with a grand, overwhelming crescendo of brass – but also a playfulness in the way it employed its astonishing sonic palette, clashing together the acoustic, the electric and the orchestral to make something entirely new.

In the time since, she released her magnificent score to the 2018 coming of age movie ‘Eighth Grade’, plus a reimagining of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, but although she’s always argued that there’s no separation between her myriad projects, that they all exist on the same “spectrum of music” as she’s put it, ‘FIBS’ is ‘Varmints’ clear successor. It has that same blend of masterful textural arrangements and playful glitchiness, but they’re woven together more tightly. A monstrous swell of brass can push an electronic crescendo that little step further; a frantic weaving synth line can dash across a string movement and slice it in two.

If ‘Varmints’ was the sound of Meredith establishing a sound that was genuinely unique, ‘FIBS’ is the sound of her refining it into something even more potent. Opener ‘Sawbones’ is the best example yet of what’s becoming a trademark approach to synths, a headspinning weave of melodies, flying in all directions, the pace increasing in increments over a relentless rapid-fire beat. Then, on ‘Inhale Exhale’, the momentum settles into a graceful glide as the composer’s understatedly elegant vocals are introduced. Later, on ‘Bump’, looming brass duels playfully with electronic jabs and a sweep of overdriven guitar, while on ‘moonsmoons’ she stretches out towards beautiful, fully-fledged abstraction.

‘FIBS’ is such a finely tuned record that it’s easy to overlook just how incredible Meredith’s command of texture really is, how deftly her music can turn from a paper-thin synth line to a gargantuan orchestral crescendo within seconds. Although she is perhaps the least widely known of this year’s Hyundai Mercury Prize nominees, the nod is well-deserved mainstream recognition of one of Britain’s most forward-thinking and innovative musicians.

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