Compelling manifesto for living

Two years ago, Taylor Swift released her latest album, 1989, named after the year she was born, and which gloriously brandished the late-1980s synth-pop style.

In 1982, Prince dropped his magnum opus, 1999, which alluded to partying till it was the end of the millennium, and the world as we knew it.

The latest musician to name his album after a year is Welshman Meilyr Jones, the frontman of the now-defunct indie band Race Horses.

As it turns out, the reason for titling his solo debut called 2013 is simple. "Because I wrote it in 2013," he said in an interview, adding that it is an "anthology of that period of my life".

Race Horses had just disbanded and he had just come out of a relationship. Feeling adrift, he dove into other artistic pursuits instead, reading up on sculpture and the memoirs of English Romantic poet Lord Byron and French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz.

All these led to a sojourn in Rome, "a place of faith and blood and lust", where he felt re-energised and rooted.

  • CHAMBER POP

  • 2013

    Meilyr Jones

    Moshi Moshi

    4/5 stars

Suffice it to say Jones is not your typical navel-gazing, garage-rocker dude.

His solo outing is an unexpected delight, full of bite and verve. The music has the hallmarks of a Rufus Wainwright: wondrous, century-crossing chamber-pop stuff but without the arched brow. He warbles like the anti-hipster Jarvis Cocker or fellow Welshman Gruff Rhys, who revels in psychedelic flourishes without apology.

Appropriately, the album opens with its second single How To Recognise A Work Of Art, a satire of the self-aggrandising world of art collectors and the ceaseless culture of coolness.

"It's a fake," he repeats the chorus, in a Motowninfluenced doozie driven by crisp horns and staccato percussion. Subtly, it is a jab at his past relationship too. "You with the sun in your eyes," he sings, suspended between regret and blinding clarity.

In Don Juan, he reimagines himself as the Byronic version of the fictional libertine, stung by rejection, seduced then discarded. It is Baroque via modern pop culture, underpinned by harpsichord, music recorder and whining strings.

It is testament to his genius that he can address contemporaneous issues of the day without sounding contrived. "Switch off your television… tell your boyfriend the news," he sings in Refugees, a plaintive piano dirge that digs at armchair pundits who pontificate but do not lift a finger.

Such is his unique magpie sensibility. He stitches multifarious threads - from the fine arts to politics to matters of the heart - into a compelling manifesto for living. Just listen to Return To Life, an orchestral masterpiece, which name-drops Byron, Berlioz and New York City amid sweeping strings, whistling pipes and heartstopping cymbals, only to be book-ended by a quirky accordion coda.

There is a different rhyme and reason at work here and you are best advised to dive in, swim around and just enjoy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2016, with the headline 'Compelling manifesto for living'. Print Edition | Subscribe