As we drove over to record club, Nick and I were chatting about one of the current Netflix offerings, Stranger Things. Initially just checking in that we both liked it and sharing our general thoughts, the conversation soon focused in on the programme’s undeniable and overt use of cliche. I had seen this as a weakness at first and, during the first couple of episodes, they had been sufficiently obtrusive as to make me question whether or not to bother continuing with the show. However, my wife did a little bit of digging around on the interweb and before long found plentiful evidence that the use of cliche was a deliberate move on the part of the programme’s directors. For me, this changed everything – what I had perceived as weakness, laziness or, at best, an extreme lack of awareness transformed instantaneously into a mixture of homage, innovation and nostalgia. Before long, I was loving all the references to 80s kidcentric schlock horror, and not long after that I realised that I wasn’t noticing them at all as the characters and story drew me in!
Which brings me to 2013 by Meilyr Jones. He performs a very similar trick here but in a musical rather than cinematographic setting. Operating within the wistful chamber pop side of things, listening to 2013 it’s as if Jones is holding up his hands and admitting that the best tunes have already been taken, so let’s nick bits from here and there, create some new melodies along the way, have some fun and, ultimately, just do it all really, really well. Throughout the album, you will hear snippets of stuff you recognise, either lyrically (Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain makes an appearance on second track Don Juan, Wild World by Cat Stevens on Rome) or musically (Smoke on the Water’s pivotal riff forms the hook in Strange/Emotional’s propulsive and surprising chorus, Jarvis Cocker’s off stage asides are echoed on the baroque masterpiece that is Olivia). Elsewhere, similarities with your other favourite artists are evident, if less direct – Morrissey’s phrasing and singing style is recalled on a number of tracks (albeit with a discernible Welsh lilt on most tracks), Jens Lekman is evoked on closer Be Soft and, unsurprisingly, fellow Welsh wizards Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci can be heard reverberating throughout. At no point, however, does Jones sound anything at all like Paul Heaton!
Whether these reference points devalue or enhance your listening experience (or have no effect at all!) is up to you, but by the time the record ends, Jones leaves you in no doubt that he knows exactly what he is doing and, for me, that makes all the difference. In fact, to my ears, 2013 is one of the freshest, wittiest and well executed pop records I have heard in ages and, in another era, songs like the poppy How To Recognise A Work Of Art and Featured Artist or the devastating Refugees (which urges you to ‘turn off your TV’) would be topping the charts rather than only occasionally finding their way onto the late night shows on 6 Music!
Nick listened: Unlike Stranger Things, which I loved, I found it difficult to get a handle on this – I think because, while the former eventually pulled me into the world of the new characters it presented, I never really got a handle on who this Meilyr guy is. Obviously talented, I get the idea he’s hiding behind all these references (oh look, the Rebel Rebel riff!) as a kind of intellectual exercise. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but a single 40 minute exposure often isn’t enough to get beneath the signifiers and discover what’s driving them.