Meilyr Jones was, until recently, best known as the frontman of the briefly famous Race Horses. They were perhaps most famous for having to change their name from Radio Luxembourg due to the threat of legal problems with the radio station of the same name. Meilyr though, is of course not the only solo star to emerge from a largely forgotten band.
Despite being ludicrously young when she went solo, Britney Spears had already been a member of the utterly obscure girl group Innosense, having left them for a somewhat more successful solo career, our Brit even had the kindness/bare-faced-cheek to bring her old band along as a support act. Of course Britney’s former squeeze Justin Timberlake did something similar with little known boy band N-Sync as well, nope we don’t remember anything about them.
Outside of the world of pure-pop, some actually quite listenable artists have emerged from obscure bands into solo superstars. Before becoming one of the world’s most heartbreakingly brilliant songwriters, Elliot Smith wrote the darker end of the musical output of Portland group Heatmiser. There’s also plenty who found a modicum of success in bands but only really made their name as solo artists; John Grant outshone The Czars, Bjork was always more interesting than the admittedly excellent Sugarcubes and we would also argue it’s debatable whether Amy Winehouse would be so well remembered if she’s stuck with her teenage rap-trio Sweet’n’Sour?
So basically, if you’re in a band we’re suggesting you sack it off and go solo, it’s bound to work out; of course it doesn’t work for everyone, George Michael was in a band as terrible as Wham! and he still couldn’t right a decent solo single…
In the year 2016, there’s something delightfully odd about calling your album 2013. The year is barely long enough gone to really think of as history, and it somehow feels oddly decadent to look back on something so recent and find something interesting to say about it. Calling his debut album 2013 is however, exactly what Welsh songwriter Meilyr Jones has chosen to do.
To most of us 2013, was just another year, for Meilyr, it was life changing, he has spoken of the album as, “an anthology, a collection of my songs and of what happened to me in that year.” We honestly couldn’t tell you what we were doing two years ago, but 2013 was a particularly formative and interesting time in Meilyr’s life. Following the end of his former band, Meilyr took a trip to Rome, and more importantly embarked on something of a new way of life, as he recently told The Line Of Best Fit, “I went on holiday and I literally made it my mission to follow anything I was interested in, every idea I had in my imagination I ended up trying to make and that’s what led to these songs.”
It was probably less about Rome the city, and more about the lifestyle and inventiveness that Meilyr found there. He went with preconceived notions of the city and drawing on inspiration from a multi-faceted selection of artists, be that sculpture, the writings of Byron, or the music of Monteverdi and Berlioz. Meilyr is arguably less a musician specifically and more an all-round artist, his inspiration is so varied and elegant, it should be of no surprise that this album sounds entirely unique, a rare talent standing alone as a singular visionary for the ideas and concepts held inside his head. What leaps out above all else on 2013, is the sheer ambition of the record; in a time when most musicians are limited by the pressures of money and time, Meilyr sounds brilliantly unwilling to compromise.
On returning home from Rome, Meilyr was confronted by the reality of the music he had written there, some thirteen songs, unlike anything he has previously recorded before. He knew that he wanted a number of the tracks to include orchestral arrangements, and unperturbed by the difficulty he set about doing just that. He cobbled together a rag-tag orchestra of, “friends, and friends of friends of friends”, in a single day they managed, somehow, to put down the main body of the five tracks he had pictured in his head. That wasn’t quite enough of course, he later added overdubs from a community choir in Glasgow, field recordings of birds, and the obvious missing ingredient of three trombonists playing in a cemetery. This was very much a case of an artist making exactly the record they wanted, and refusing to cut a single corner in pursuit of the reality.
That is not to say all of the influences here are so highbrow; the intro to Strange Emotional is knowingly lifted straight Bowie’s Rebel Rebel, there’s as many nods to the thrills of rock’n’roll as there are to the subtle nuances of classic music. Indeed the way he splices genres and ideas is similar in process, if not sound, to the way early hip-hop recordings were put together; in looking backwards, and in a multitude of direction, Meilyr is able to craft something that sounds fresh, and entirely removed from parody and pastiche.
What’s clever, deliberately or otherwise, about 2013 is the way it slowly unfurls it’s many joys. Tracks like Strange Emotional, Featured Artist and How To Recognise A Work Of Art provided the instant gratification of slick, arty, rock’n’roll, while the likes of the Medieval licked Don Juan, the 2001: A Space Odyssey-like crescendos of Be Soft and the constant reinventions of Olivia, provide more subtle thrills. With repeat listens the tracks seep into your memory, even the end of Featured Artist, where an Italian lady reads Tasso’s poem Io son la primavera, over time worms its way into your head, and you find yourself donning your worst accent and attempting your best effort at speaking Italian.
As with anyone trying to do something artistic and progressive, there are occasional moments where it falls a tad flat; Rain In Rome serves little purpose other than a short break and a chance to listen to a fairly pleasant field recording of rain, whilst Love is probably meant as a musing on religion and its role in the modern world, but it does sound a bit like a man singing about how great trees are.
Those low points though are more than compensated for by the many highs; the beautifully arranged Return To Life has a fantastic orchestral bounce, Refugees is a stunning and articulate piano ballad which finds Meilyr longing for a lost age when politicians still cared for people not votes, whilst closing track, Be Soft is a stunning build-up of sound, starting with little more than a gently plucked harp it builds to a heart-stopping crescendo as Meilyr muses on how, “love is a lie ready penned.”
Featured Artist, as with a number of tracks on the album, seems to fixate on the modern process of fame; over bright, breezy horns and piano, Meilyr notes, “I am this weeks featured artist, I am the face of the Observers free magazine”, before latterly, pretty much yelling, “I WILL NEVER REHEARSE.” There are slight references to a past musical time when, “I sang in all the bars when there were stars” but that’s contrasted to a more noble, artistic and less financially rewarding path, that will end only when “you’ll find me in a grave in Rome.”
Strange Emotional is a blast of joy, the sound of an awakening, of a man who departed with nothing but in finding a new city, found that everything he thought he needed was suddenly insignificant to what happens next, “I’m in pieces and I feel alright” he notes over the tracks big-joyous glam rock sound. At the end of the track he notes, “I’m happy here” and ultimately that’s exactly what 2013 is about, it’s about casting aside what the world expects of you and discovering your own personal happiness; for many that happiness might be found not in Rome or in Byron, but in rock’n’roll, in David Bowie, and in the work of someone who is able to fuse all those things into a cohesive whole: for many, happiness might just be found in the work of Meilyr Jones.
2013 is out March 18th via Moshi Moshi. Meilyr Jones tours the UK in April, click HERE for details.