Over the last year, Sydney troubadour extraordinaire Jo Meares has been releasing the most mesmerising and dynamic series of singles with producer Anth Dymke: each one a sparkling enigmatic jewel, interspersed, in the depth of COVID last year, by the release of a french language version of an earlier EP ‘Back To The World‘ (which made our annual list of favourite releases for 2021). Meares has now released a full length album ‘Dream Hotel’ which collects these gems along with some additional tracks, and the result is nothing short of magnificent.
Stately, enigmatic and full of a wispy atmosphere – hushed vocals, sparse instrumentation and deeply romantic lyrics – this is an album where the spaces in between the notes says more than most contemporary music around at the moment manage in a lifetime. Every note is imbued with a melancholy edge, wracked with pain and solitude, regret and loss and yet immeasurably beautiful.
Meares says of his collaboration on this album with Dymke:
Anth Dymke is, to my mind, one of Australia’s greatest bass players. He does not simply play the bass but create a whole mood and atmosphere with his playing. What I did not realise is that Anth is also a brilliant producer. I started to send him files of songs I was working on and he would turn those fairly simple recordings into something quite brilliant, but always preserving and expanding the aesthetic I had presented to him. I was impressed that Anth deleted and moved lyrics around. A producer who has the confidence to mess with the writer’s words and rearrange them is the best. He could see the whole picture.
The first time I heard Jo’s music I immediately felt a cinematic presence in it. He tells stories in his music and I was keen to start shaping some ideas around those stories of love and loss.
Landscapes created by an array of different textures felt like a good palette in which to ground Jo’s evocative storytelling skills. I love that Morricone sound where there can be blood and guts and then there are beautiful strings, which is a nice counterbalance. The electronic elements add a futuristic Kubrick kind of feel too. “It’s like darkness in the future”.
The combination of the two creates a heady chemistry – musical streams of sorrowful joy. Meares and Dymke manage to draw in those elements of music that make it so cathartic and moving – think of artists like Tindersticks, Sigur Ros and the like who manage convey such feeling and emotion into their work, resulting in extremes: a sort of euphoria mixed with melancholy.
Opening track ‘Faster Than A First Kiss’ is an explosive, searing beginning. It is Meares at his very best: a floating drifting smoky haze over a percussion free and immersive bed of strings, synths and sorrow. Meares’s vocals are half spoken, drifting and distant, poetic and elegant. As the percussion kicks in with etchings of shimmering guitar, the pace quickens, the slow majestic pace briefly blossoms before a sudden end.
Meares sings evocatively:
When was it I learnt they would put coins on my eyes
He explains that in this track, he is:
…ruminating on those fleeting moments of joy and experience that pass way too quickly and the idea of various masks and forms we take as we move through life.
The track catches that sense of ephemeral, fleeting beauty, the transience of our very existence as brief sparks in a continuum of life across the immeasurable line of time. Meares has that jaded worn expression soaked in whiskey and absinthe, reflecting his global wanderings and his acute observations of the minutiae of life. Think of the brittle beauty of bands like Tindersticks and the sonic majesty of Sigur Ros that evoke a sense of melancholic euphoria.
‘The Fields of Yesterday’, drifting languidly over seven exquisite minutes, has a delicate pattering of instrumentation replete with weeping strings that tug at the heartstrings. Meares’s almost whispered vocals are at times half spoken and velvet soft, creating a transfixing fugue as female backing vocals echo the sweep of the strings, almost like the sound of a theremin painting the edges. It’s a thoroughly moving track.
‘Just Dreams’ features razor sharp percussion and strings create a sweeping,billowing surface across which his bewitching, reflective and wry delivery skates. Rain swept landscapes and darkened skies are steeped within his delivery and evocative story-telling: leaving us in a dreamy reverie, hypnotised and mesmerised.
Influenced, like many, by the turbulent past 2 years, Meares says of the track:
I suppose it’s a song that really relates to lockdown though it’s more just a poetic statement about any situation and that it will pass. I wanted the song to be hopeful in some sense.
The title track is framed by a crisp piano that wanders through the mind, while Meares’s melodies are brittle and enveloping, naked and raw. The production is crystalline and pure like a stream running from a glacier. Breathtakingly beautiful.
Warning bells, echoing backing vocals and an ominous piano splash bring in ‘Dry Bones’ – a reverberated track that has elements of Peter Gabriel with its sharp edge production, and a touch of Nick Cave in its rumbling dark and wandering refrain.
The mesmerising ominous dark clouds are brushed aside to some extent with ‘Janet’: a bright babbling stream of instrumentation and yearning vocalising in the distance that has a ghostly presence.
Released as a single way back in 2020, ‘The Dirty Art of Game’ is a stunning and mesmerising song – haunting, poetic and celestial in its tone. Foremost is the rumbling hypnotic vocals that weave an enticing tale of temptation and sin in a half-whispered tone, with serpentine synths swirling in the distance and brief hints of dirty, scuzzy guitars circling below the surface like sharks. It’s evocative, faintly threatening and absolutely intoxicating.
Stylistically it would be easy to note Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave whose lyricism can transcend the music. I also detect a certain insouciance of Serge Gainsbourg and Alabama 3: hints of decadence and liquor-soaked early morning decay and debauchery.
‘Kris Kristofferson’ slips through the ether like a trail of smoke, like a chemtrail high in the sky, broken and torn asunder at times by a dirty, scuzzy, filthy guitar that scythes its way into the slipstream.
The album leaves us with a brilliant cover of ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ – a track normally adorned with a vacuous day-glo superficiality with a pastel coloured linen-suited lounge room sheen, but here dragged deep into the heart of darkness, the familiar melodic riff reduced to a background disturbance. The line in other words I love you becomes threatening and ominous.
‘Dream Hotel’ is a magnificent tour de force: an assemblage of pure emotion that breathes softly down your neck and take possession of your very soul. Enchanting, transfixing, mesmerising: weaving an indelible spell. This is pure magic.
‘Dream Hotel’ is out now through the link below and will be available to stream and download at all the usual places this Friday, 11 November 2022.
Jo Meares and Anth Dymke will be launching the album with Matt Galvin on guitar, Reuben Alexander (William Crighton) on drums and Jess Cassar on backing vocals (Jep and Dep, Jessica) this Friday, 11 November 2022 in Sydney – supported by the brilliant Fabels. Details below and tickets here.