Earlier in the artistic lifespan of electronic musician Matthew Jeanes’ career as Larvae, releases such as Monster Music and Fashion Victim steadily held my attention as being a couple of those rare, very fine examples of instrumental electronica / drum ‘n’ bass done well. Upbeat, powerful, and in your face (but not in the overly frenetic way that so often dominates the genre), Larvae’s beat-driven music also incorporated elements of ambient and down-tempo that lent a welcome sense of spaciousness.
The Empire EP followed and continued their spin on the genre while simultaneously paying homage to and mocking the Star Wars trilogy and its prequels. Shortly after this EP, Larvae dropped off my radar as life experiences and a shift in personal tastes led me elsewhere. The band eschewed their previous identity and began to incorporate traditional instrumentation and vocals into their sound. However, I’ve since discovered that the resulting album, Dead Weight, is full of gorgeous and emotionally stirring electronica. After Dead Weight, Larvae had been forgotten about until 2012 when I discovered via an Ad Noiseam newsletter that Exit Strategy was soon to be released and that it would herald a return to Larvae’s earlier instrumental approach.
Exit Strategy could very well be Larvae’s most moving release to date. The growing trend of poignant musical maturity displayed on Dead Weight continues here (minus the vocals) as the listener is transported to profound emotional highs and heart-aching lows. The actual musical content of delicate beats and warm melodies is reflected perfectly on the cover with images of fragile and bare tree branches against a backdrop of fog and distant landscapes. Song titles such as “Her Hair”, “The Life you Waste May be your Own”, and “Quitter” further corroborate that this is an auditory venture drenched in heartrending depth.
The first two-thirds of the album are absolutely gorgeous and wash over the listener with an uplifting buoyancy that are a perfect accompaniment to pass into the threshold of the final third of the album. The doorway to the latter portion of the album is the curiously titled “N-1”, which bears mentioning as it is the only track to be found here that glances back to the days of Fashion Victim. It would not have been out-of-place on that album, but fits in interestingly enough here as a hard-hitting number before the harrowing plunge of “Quitter”.
“Quitter” ushers us through to the beginning of the end itself and is a superb movement of forlorn and beatless ambience that might have you feeling as if you’re walking amongst the rubble and ruins of someone’s shattered life — or worse, your own. From there, you’re guided into the richly cinematic “Easy” (which suggests that life is anything but) and ultimately towards the epic and moving title track that closes the album in a way that hints at a silver lining after a long period of grief, yet is still somehow suffused with flecks of sorrow.
An emotionally intense but rewarding listening experience, Exit Strategy is indeed a most welcome surprise so late in Larvae’s career.
01) Locked from the Inside
02) Her Hair
03) Vows & Promises
05) The Switch
06) The Life you Waste may be your Own
10) Exit Strategy