Former Race Horse finds inspiration in Italian architecture, Byron and Bowie...

2013 was quite the year for Meilyr Jones. As the year dawned, the band he had fronted for eight years disbanded mere months after releasing an excellent second album, ‘Furniture’. There was separation in his personal life too, all contributing to a feeling of burnout. Wondering if he would ever make music again, he set off on a trip to Rome, prompted by a book about its sculptures. Before long, his muse intervened and the twelve songs that make up an aural record of Jones’ year would suggest it was an eventful time for this discombobulated artist.

A hugely varied set, ‘2013’ was very nearly called ‘Anthology’ - so much does it resemble a compilation of his many and varied ideas from the time. An enthusiastic and endearingly ambitious presence, Jones was keen to capture the magic of stage performance in these songs and much of the album was recorded completely live. As he explained to Clash last year: “When you hear a Duke Ellington recording, it feels so much of the era largely because you hear the space.” That shared, communal dynamic adds a certain euphoric urgency to a number of the songs on ‘2013’, with Jones’ performance clearly adapting to the work of the musicians around him. It’s one of several factors that make this a rather remarkable record.

The album opens with the stomping indie pop of ‘How To Recognise A Work Of Art’, inspired by Neoclassical sculpture’s fascination with meticulous copies, hinting at the notion that beauty of creating is in the expression itself rather than the specific ownership that follows. Clattering drums, emphatic horns and vintage backing vocals all combine to set the bar very high. Recent single ‘Don Juan’ explores heroic failure after Jones read Byron’s novel and was suitably inspired. Buoyant harpsichord establishes a timeless tone that pervades much of ‘2013’.

‘Rome’ gets its medieval groove on, building in processional fashion to a particularly dramatic conclusion and is followed immediately by the rather literally titled ‘Rain In Rome’. Like several tracks on the album, it makes use of a number of field recordings from when the pieces were written. This is most stirring when delicate birdsong occupies the space left after the final note of beautiful solo piano ballad ‘Refugees’ expires.

‘Strange Emotional’ appears to more than gently doff its hat towards Bowie’s ‘Rebel Rebel’ in its verses before excitably losing it for the chorus. ‘Featured Artist’, with its wry lyric of, “I am this week’s featured artist / I’m the face of the Observer’s free magazine,” does a neat job of taking a swipe at the modern obsession with recasting greats of their time for a new generation.

Fabulously varied, at times unashamedly extravagant and with a consistently joyous urgency, ‘2013’ may be a historical document but it points to a very bright future. Quite what sort of solo artist Meilyr Jones may now wish to be is not entirely clear. On this kaleidoscopic evidence, he doesn’t need to choose any time soon.


Words: Gareth James

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