Top Scores #14: Living With Yourself & Anna Meredith
If you have a Netflix subscription then the likelihood is you know about Living With Yourself— a hot new comedy-drama starring the lovable Paul Rudd alongside the the renowned Irish actress and stand-up comedian Aisling Bea.
The series follows Miles, a gloomy middle-aged man from the suburbs, who undergoes treatment at “Top Happy Spa” in a desperate attempt to improve his life. However instead of getting the “better” life he had hoped for, he realises that he has been replaced by a cloned “better” version of himself. The show is surreal, unnerving and surprising; a comedy-drama that achieves hilarity through its absurdity.
Such a unique and exciting series calls for a boundary-pushing soundtrack: enter Anna Meredith.
Contemporary Scottish composer Anna Meredith is known for challenging musical tropes and delivering the unanticipated. She originally trained as a classical composer, later evolving into electronics and fabricating her own brand of synth-pop. Her unique and genre-bending style saw Meredith become the first woman ever to be commissioned for both The First and The Last Night of the BBC Proms as well as receiving an MBE for her services to music. As one of the most exciting contemporary composers of the day her music knows no bounds; she is the perfect artist to tackle the complex existential and abstract themes that lie at the heart of Living With Yourself.
Anna Meredith was approached by the series’ directors Jon Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine) after they saw her Tiny Desk concert and recognised her artistic potential. They wanted Meredith to use her signature boundary-pushing approach to create the unexpected.
Having worked on several music videos themselves, the directors were very hot on the music. Not only did they want something totally new and unpredictable but they wanted a lot of it— fifty cues in total, she recalls in conversation with NME. As a result, the soundtrack neatly weaves together parts of Meredith’s back-catalogue alongside bespoke compositions.
It features “Nautilus”, the opening track on her 2016 album Varmints as well as her 2012 EP Black Prince Fury. The track takes its name from a unique and beautiful underwater mollusk that lives trapped inside a hard external shell. Her track also forges a sense of entrapment as two bellowing horns drive each other forward until they are locked into a dramatic stalemate— it feels both limitless and doomed. The track’s ambivalence sees to its continuous reincarnation; it repeatedly takes on new meaning as it crops up in new surroundings. It featured in Lady Gaga’s documentary Five Foot Two as well as the film Eighth Grade in which Meredith also played composer. “Nautilus” circles back on itself in Living With Yourself; soundtracking two crucial scenes at the start and end of the series.
“Nautilus” simultaneously amps up the tension while undercutting it for comedy. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the first of many offbeat set-pieces. There’s terror and hilarity in those booming synths, and a raucous ensemble of brass and synthetic tones is the mainstay of the show’s eclectic, invigorating score.” (Iana Murray, GQ, 2019)
Other existing tracks featured throughout the series include the hectic and cumbersome “Bump” which appears on Meredith’s latest critically acclaimed album FIBS. This album was heralded by The Guardian as “brimming with contrary combinations, irrelevant genre-bending and serious innovation”.
Living With Yourself is filled with joy, laughter, fear and sadness just like Meredith’s FIBS where no two tracks sound the same. As a composer who focuses on dramatic rhythmic patterns and cycles of percussion that slowly build to create tension, her style is perfectly suited to tell the tale of Miles’ existential boredom and suburban struggle. Her soundtrack challenges the ordinary, adds comedy to the absurd, and highlights life’s constant battle of living with yourself.
Listen to the soundtrack in full: