Merel & Tony. Photo: Ralph Elliott
Houston’s Merel & Tony might be the most inventive act I’ve come across in over the past five years, if not longer. On their new release Merel & Tony with The Woe Woe Woes, they literally make their own genre while crafting five tracks of sheer beauty and art while carving their own divergent path. Their music reminds me of combining jazz and post rock bands who hired a folk singer while throwing the past out of the window before sampling the best parts of all three elements and creating something brand new.
Opening with the track, “Purgatorio,” the group starts with these sweet and endearing little key stabs that mature over the course of the song before Merel saunters in with her intimate vocals. The mixture of guitar and drums remind me of free form jazz while the keys keep things level before the band finds their way into a chorus that’s like nothing you’ve heard before. Almost like art rock without being challenging, there’s a balance between Merel’s thematic voice where the pain and anguish seep through; the chaotic music somehow finds its way to work. They follow this with the obscure but more mainstream sound of “The Shame.” The elemental way in which this pairing works together is intense but not overbearing. Similar to how the Yeah Yeah Yeahs offered squealing guitar with earnest vocals, they find a way to make these dynamics perform splendidly together. The best part of the song is the group’s ability to find comfort in the spaces between notes.
The groove behind “The Unicorn in Captivity” is infectious prior to the operatic way in which Merel hops onto the track, piercing through the varying instrumentation. The song — which reminds me of a mix between older Björk and contemporary Björk without sounding like a carbon copy — is like a miniature opera. A haunting vocal track dancing in the background, keys in multitude, guitars and a solo drum make up the background, creating a fabric that’s so immense yet still feels light. The band comes close to the early work of the Talking Heads on the fourth song, “Girlfriendland,” by giving the listener a sound that feels like an old train chugging along. The song is short and sweet, and even ends a little too quickly, but the mix of Moog inspired synths and chaotic structuring is pretty amazing, coming off like a quick moment in time that you won’t soon forget. Closing with the slower and more somber “The Future Is Ending,” the group creates a sound that emanates subtle beauty. The sparse nature of the song is almost like a love letter set to music, wrought with emotional depth and darkness. Halfway through, various instruments hop on and give the track a feeling of a quiet nightmare, though not scary either. I don’t expect everyone to understand what Merel and Tony are doing here, but I find their work to be some of the most original while sometimes familiar that I’ve listened to in quite some time.
You can stream or purchase a download of Merel & Tony with The Woe Woe Woes here, or pick up a physical copy Saturday April 8 at Walt’s Famous House Party. The show, featuring sets from The Mustn’ts, Vicki Tippit of Black Kite, and more gets started at 9 pm and carries a $5 suggested donation at the door.