It doesn’t matter if you’ve never heard of Meilyr Jones, or his former band Race Horses. It doesn’t matter if you think Jones is English, when in fact, he’s a Welshman. It doesn’t even matter if you’re stumped on how exactly to pronounce “Meilyr”-because an authoritative voice tells you within the first 30 seconds of 2013’s opening track “How To Recognise A Work of Art.”
These things cease to matter, not because they are uninteresting, but because it is such a great record that it speaks for itself. It stands on its own two feet.
2013 is many things-a contemporary foray into baroque and renaissance influences, a brilliant pop record, a sonic odyssey with innumerable peaks and valleys. But it is also a love letter to Rome, the breeding ground for many of songs on the album. After the disbandment of Race Horses and the end of a relationship, Jones romantically fled to the ancient city, catalyzed by reading art history texts and Byron’s Don Juan. “I got really taken over by the feeling of adventure and passion in Byron, and some of Shelley’s poetry and Keats as well. And they were all people who went to Rome.” Jones mentioned in a press release.
And so along with everything else, 2013 has yet another incarnation, as a scrapbook of Jones’s time in Rome, and everything he loves in general. “I wanted to make something that felt right to me and expressed my interests, which are classical music and rock ‘n’ roll music, and films, and nature and karaoke, and tacky stuff,” Jones says. “And I wanted to capture that feeling in Rome of high culture and low-brow stuff all mixed together.” For a record so difficult to nail down, it is comforting to know that such a stew of influences went into making it.
It might amaze you, as it did me, that five of the twelve tracks on 2013 were recorded live in all of one day with a 30 plus piece orchestra that Jones assembled himself. Jones told press that he “wanted to record it completely live. The idea was doing it like a Frank Sinatra session.” And that idea certainly comes across in the grand arrangements Jones has served up.
He’s a songwriter with big ideas, delivering lofty compositions of the finest kind. “How To Recognise A Work Of Art” confirms the pop chops Jones has been refining since his days in Race Horses, the sweeping orchestral arrangements bringing a whole new dimension to otherwise infectious hooks.
“Don Juan” slows the record down to a honeyed melancholy, which is the only place to go after a banger such as “How To Recognise A Work Of Art.” Inspired by the same poem that led him to Italy, “Don Juan” is a nod to the baroque with subtle harpsichord and recorder riffs. The opening notes remind me of the exoticism found in The Stranglers’ “Golden Brown,” a similar genre-bending track. While straying from gimmick, “Don Juan” does render a lush image of open-bloused sirs flung upon velvet divans, drinking not from cups, but goblets.
One of the most compelling aspects of Jones’s songs is that they behave more like Classical compositions or film scores than traditional pop music. They never end where they began, and traverse twisting paths the whole way through. “Passionate Friend” thumps along like the opening number in a sinister musical, the first words to which are nearly whispered by Jones: “Sometimes I am with the witches//on fire, fast and ruined//sometimes all around, with the honey in me, I quicken.”
“Refugees” is the emotional core of 2013, seemingly the most obvious breakup song. The leading single off the record, it is the first song I heard by Meilyr Jones, and it continues to resonate deeply with me. It is spare enough to exhibit his incredible talent; there are no bells, whistles, or harpsichords, just Jones at the piano with his striking choirboy voice.
2013 is an album in two acts, bisected on either side of “Rain In Rome,” an instrumental that melds organ with pattering raindrops and violent applause. It is a joyous palette cleanser, as the remainder of the album will volley from straight up rock with “Strange Emotional” to classical dramas such as “Return To Life” and “Olivia,” the latter of which features an operatic choir. There is a lot going on here, but I wouldn’t change it a bit.
I could all too easily write a synopsis of every track on this record, which is something I am rarely compelled to do…but 2013 is that wonderful. There isn’t a mediocre song on it. If you like Kate Bush, Van Morrison, The Zombies, if you like classical, eccentric, baroque, chamber, psychedelic, garage, or just slickly written pop, I recommend, beg, entreat you: give Meilyr Jones a chance. You will never be bored again.
2013 is out now via Moshi Moshi Records.
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