After nearly a decade fronting Welsh indie pop band Race Horses, Meilyr Jones' solo debut explores newfound individuality inspired partly by a post-disbandment, post-relationship trip to Rome, Italy in the spring of 2013. Despite the circumstances, 2013 is less a breakup album than an assertion of self, simmering with wry humor and musical whimsy, often evoking a combination of Rufus Wainwright and compatriot singer/songwriters Gruff Rhys and Sweet Baboo. These qualities are all on display on the symphonic "Passionate Friend," with woodblock, flittering woodwinds, strings, and pitch-bending brass bringing to life the lyrical melodrama. Elsewhere, the operatic "Olivia" stretches from tympani to wind chimes, and "Featured Artist" is a vocal-era lounge act-type tune about ego and fleeting moments of celebrity (such as the guy who gets "on the front of that free magazine"). Like most of the album, these songs were recorded live in the studio with a 30-piece orchestra, an approach used to replicate the effect of Frank Sinatra recordings. Other songs, like the ballad "Refugees," are sparer, though this one, too, was captured live, reportedly in one take while concurrently shooting Jones at the piano for the single's music video. There's also the unexpected 90-second interlude "Rain in Rome," an approximated Renaissance-style a cappella piece with an outdoor setting. For all of the album's playfulness, there are still signs of heartache, with lyrics like "love is a weakness, love is a curse," and songs such as the jaunty opener "How to Recognise a Work of Art," which has the songwriter working through a metaphor to expose an inauthentic person ("It's a fake"). Through it all, and sometimes in spite of ambitious arrangements, Jones proves himself to have a way with poignancy and yearning melodies that stick.
by Marcy Donelson