ALBUM REVIEW: Meilyr Jones “2013”

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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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YEAR END LIST: Top 10 Album Covers

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Let’s all just agree to agree that hip hop as a genre won the album cover contest this year, okay? Much of the new heavy metal out this year bore covers that ran the gambit between overstatedly woodsy to just plain inexplicable, and pop albums favored stark, angular glamor shots and occasionally left us confused as to why these artists are so mad at us. Release for release, hip hop had some stellar, memorable artwork, much of it instantly iconic portrait art, like Drake’s diptych of his child self mirrored with a matching image of himself as an adult. However, one exclusion from our favorite cover art of 2013 is a hip hop album worth mentioning: Kanye West’s Yeezus.

I know, I know: Yeezus saves. Equally loved and detested, West’s new album will, I predict, come to be one of the lasting albums from 2013, and he’s had his share of notable, exquisite, and ridiculous moments. But Yeezus’ album cover art isn’t any of the above. First of all, the red tape slapped onto the homemade CD is at best a humble-brag for the contents’ breadth and slick production–the record itself is far more magnum opus than it is demo tape, and both West and Yeezus know it. Secondly, it’s neither iconic nor indicative of the year West has had–the image is tepid, and in 2013, the rapper was anything but. Number 10 in our Year End Album Cover countdown employs the same understated formality of Yeezus’ image, but goes for an effect more subtly surreal.

10. Kid Cudi – Indicud

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The contrast of the stately frame makes the fire in this image come alive, as if it’s three-dimensional. Dangerous, uncontainable things come inside unassuming packages, and this image is so memorable because it’s unpredictable, framing a scene that doesn’t naturally observe boundaries.

Listen to “Unfuckwittable” off of Indicud here via Grooveshark:

 

9. Warm Soda – Someone For You

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Flat, room-temperature yellow backs this ambivalently nostalgic cover, bringing listless summer days to mind. In fact, the image captures the album’s blistering-but-catchy, vaguely seventies-era sound perfectly.

Listen to “Someone for you” off of Warm Soda here via Grooveshark:

 

8. The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars

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High-definition billowing smoke, a black and grey scale, and the austere white script across the dark grey cloud make this album cover memorably melancholy and archaic. This image looms, foreboding, channeling the loneliness and stark beauty of this band’s self-titled album.

Listen to “From This Valley” off of The Civil Wars here via Soundcloud:

 

7. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

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This odd, and vaguely threatening, photograph evokes a chilly quirkiness that The National’s Trouble Will Find Me delivers.  The sterility of the floor–bathroom tiles, maybe–lends a particular spookiness to this shot.

Listen to “I Should Live In Salt”, off of Trouble Will Find Me here via Grooveshark:

 

6. Bill Callahan – Dream River

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The broad brushstrokes of the album’s title look almost like vandalism, as if they’d been painted over an otherwise stylistically intact impressionistic scene. Vast and epic, the foggy image draws my attention to that peeking square of sky above the mountains, and the music on this record is equally complex and easily obscured.

Listen to “The Sing” off of Dream River here via Grooveshark:

 

5. Tyler, the Creator – Wolf

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The yearbook aesthetic is brought off with hilarious attention to detail, but what really makes this cover so bizarre are the faces Tyler, the Creator makes here. Simultaneously nostalgic for and mocking innocence, this rapper nails high school’s un-selfaware awkwardness (no surprise, since the rapper was only twenty-one when this picture was taken).

Listen to “Awkward” off of Wolf here via Grooveshark:

 

4. A$AP Rocky – Long. Live. A$AP

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Sweet baby Jesus, this album cover is terrifying. Strongly evocative of a screenshot from The Ring, A$AP Rocky huddles with his head down, cloaked in an American flag, as the (presumably) VHS film recording him stutters between frames.

Listen to “Purple Swag” off of Long.Live.A$AP here via Grooveshark:

 

3. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

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Adapting the cursive script made iconic by Michael Jackson’s Thriller to a shiny, austere image of their own, Daft Punk set the standards high for their 2013 release. The album delivered on a grand, complicated scale, setting the band’s course for dance music that was at once nostalgic and intensely intellectualized.

Listen to “The Game Of Love” off of Random Access Memories here via Grooveshark:

 

2. Death Grips – Government Plates

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There’s nothing frill about this stark, badass album, and nothing frilly about the stark, badass album art, either. As nihilistic as the music within, this image zooms in on the message.

Listen to “Birds” off of Government Plates here via Soundcloud:

 

1. Deafheaven – Sunbather

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Like shoegaze metal itself, this cover–an utterly pink black metal album–seems like an illogical combination of things (see the album’s gorgeous Abstract Expressionist-inspired Vinyl design up top as our featured image), but makes glorious sense taken altogether. The image represents a view of the sun from behind your eyelids, a harsh and not wholly possible ascent towards the sublime that perfectly mirrors the journey the group takes over the course of the album.

Listen to “Dream House” off of Sunbather here via Bandcamp: