Merival is the musical pseudonym for the work of Anna Horvath. On her most recent EP, Anna is joined by engineer and pianist Asher Gould-Murtagh.
Merival’s music for the most part walks the fairly well worn path of modern-folk. A Better Deal hints at the rhythmic style of early Iron & Wine, Alay Alas picks the tempo up via Elliot Smith-like finger picking, whilst Kicking You Out has the slow almost contemplative strum of Sharon Van Etten. The backing throughout is the very definition of minimal, only the faintest hint of piano threatens to enclose the basic guitar (or, on Dream Of Yourself, banjo) and vocal that dominates proceedings. The vocal treatment across the record is a delight; Anna’s voice has hints of Alela Diane, whilst the layered vocals harmonies add an atmospheric feel, reminiscent at times of Marissa Nadler.
Merival is based out of Toronto; now we were talking about Toronto just last week in our Basia Bulat article, so rather than repeat ourselves here are some other facts we learnt about the city. The name Toronto comes from a Huron word meaning fishing weir. Toronto has around 10 million trees, of which are 4 million are publicly owned. Toronto is home to 66% more artists than any other city in Canada. Toronto is the safest metropolitan area in North America. Toronto has the largest population of Italians outside of Italy. French may be the second language of Canada, but it is only the 12th most spoke in Toronto. Toronto sounds a lot of fun, shall we all just move to Toronto? TORONTO!
Anna’s musical releases have been up until now been largely collaborative, she was previously the frontwoman in First Rate People, and has appeared on releases by the likes of Ryan Hemsworth, Darren Seltman and Stars frontman Torquil Campbell. Music has been appearing under the Merival name since around about 2010, but it’s only this year that her first proper release, the EP Lovers has been released.
Many singer-songwriters are quick to distance themselves from writing songs about love and relationships, so there’s something delightful about a songwriter who openly admits these are songs are all about former lovers. The albums five tracks cover three different relationships that all occurred before Anna’s 20th birthday, and there’s something delightfully candid about her dissections of those events, these tracks have all the pain and torment of formative relationships, only delivered now with the mellowing affect of having lived with these songs for a number of years.
The best track here, Kicking You Out, is also the most interesting lyrically, it’s Anna picturing her future, day dreaming about being, “famous someday”, and making, “good steady pay”, but acknowledging that even if those dreams become reality she’ll still be kicking out memories of the boy she loved even though he was never any good. Unrequited love seems to pop up regularly, A Better Deal finds Anna hoping, “that someday you’ll be mine alone”, and it’s a record that aches with the sadness not necessarily of the pain of rejection but the pain of not knowing where you stand.
Aside from the exquisite honesty, what stands out here is the quality of the musicianship. The tracks have clearly evolved over time, and sound beautifully crafted rather than just dreamt up. Dream Of Yourself revels in the simplicity of the lone banjo, giving the vocals space to breathe and express themselves, Alay Alas rushes by a scurry of rapid guitars and vocals that seem to tumble as they struggle to keep up, the whole thing then contrasted by the tranquillity of the layered backing vocals and bright piano embellishments. It’s a record that showcases the flexibility and variety of Anna’s guitar playing, even with limited instrumentation, this is an EP that paints music with a great variety of tones and textures.
Beautiful it certainly is, however if asked to be harsh you’d be hard pushed to say it’s particularly original. Still there’s plenty of time for that later, for now just enjoy a highly promising record from a hugely talented songwriter.
Lovers is out now. If you live in Canada, Merival is out on tour in March, click HERE for details.