Anna Meredith: Jet Black Raider / Black Prince Fury (CD, Moshi Moshi, October 2013)

At some point while I was listening to this, I found myself wondering: if Philip Glass wrote experimental synth pop, is this what it would sound like? Well, maybe so, maybe not. Anyway, it’s cracking good stuff. It’s mostly old-skool-sounding lo-fi synths (I couldn’t tell you whether they’re actually old analogue beasts or modern emulations). Compositionally, it’s pretty minimal, in the sense that it’s built up of short repeated phrases (with a lot of arpeggios, hence the Glassiness). Sonically, it’s gets pretty full-on, what with the often lush sounds and the complex building up of layers (which reminds me at times of In Sides-era Orbital). Some tracks have a fairground-like atmosphere, swirling deliriously like the organ on a carousel (with Unicron, in particular, putting me in mind of the hypnotic music played by the organ-grinder Marcello in La cité des enfants perdus). Elsewhere, there’s more of an intricate chiptune effect (Orlok, for example, is a sort of Nintendo Bach which is rather more carefully done than DJ Scotch Egg’s, although no less gloriously irreverent). All in all, it’s a great deal of fun.

Which makes it a little bit of a shame that, I suspect, many people are going to overlook all of this and focus on the two tracks here which could, somewhat uncharitably perhaps, be described as quirky pop covers. A trap which I’m blatantly and knowingly falling into right now. The first of these, also my first encounter with Meredith (on Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone on BBC 6music), is Never Wonder. This starts with a stabby synth phrase which made me think “hmm, that chord progression seems familiar”. A few little toots and finger-clicks come in. The beat seemed kind of familiar, too. Then there’s a cut-off fragment of vocal which definitely sounded familiar, but I couldn’t quite place. A few more layers of synth loops come in over the top, building to a climax — and in comes a processed vocal, the instantly recognizable chorus of… a certain 1984 number-one power-ballad by a certain big-lunged and big-haired ’80s singer (what, you didn’t think I was going to spoiler you, did you?). The whole thing is a triumph of don’t-bore-us-get-to-the-chorus deconstruction: isolate a few key elements that make the song what it is, throw away all the gumpf demanded by genre, work it all together, and get the whole thing done in a minute less than the original. My favourite, though, is ALR, her take on Erasure’s A Little Respect. This one starts with a slightly fey lo-fi rendition of the vocal over a little plinky backing line (which could be the synth equivalent of a ukulele, really). A warm bass sound kicks in for the second verse, with a bit of a swell building towards the end. This leads into one of those Glassy arpeggios for the second round, and more satisfyingly rounded bass. Then the layers are stripped back a little as we approach the big euphoric hit on the “me” of “show a little respect to me”, at which exact moment a wonderfully woozy dissonant bass comes in as an awesomely pleasing counterpoint: this is, for me, the moment of real genius. And so it goes. I swear that, in its 3m40s, this version uncovers all sorts of wonderful harmonies and subtle changes of key which weren’t there in the original, or were over-produced beyond recognition. I have to admit, I’ve been slightly obsessed with this track ever since I heard it. And, yes, it does slightly overshadow the rest of an excellent album. Sorry!

This 8-track CD compiles 2012’s Black Prince Fury and 2013’s Jet Black Raider. I bought this from some random eBay seller, as it wasn’t in stock at any of my regular places.

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