Requested by Furibundo
Having slowly worked his way up from EPs and collaborations to being featured in adverts and nominated for awards, Novo Amor – Portuguese for “new love” and stage name of Welsh multi-instrumentalist Ali Meredith-Lacey – finally released his first solo album last year, building up to it after 6 years of recording and releasing under the Novo Amor name.
Singing almost entirely in a soaring yet fragile falsetto, Meredith-Lacey makes it clear what his main influences are; the album largely sounds like early Bon Iver but way more sprawling and orchestral, almost like Justin Vernon recorded in the biggest studio he could find instead of a cabin in the woods in winter. The first track Emigrate proceeds to throw everything possible at the musical canvas, going from gentle fingerpicked guitar to strings and horns and marching drums in a blur of sound, which makes it feel as though most of the song was just an intro for the massive and massively loud ending. As an opening track and listened to on its own it hits hard and makes a big impact, especially the break towards the end where the main focus switches to the orchestral side of the instrumentation for a bombastic finish, but taken as a whole it blends in with the next few tracks way too much. Birthplace starts off on a clearer and more percussive note, switching between choppy strums and thunderous drum fills as the song builds in power towards the end. The first half of the record follows the same formula pretty strictly – start slowly and quietly and build to a huge crescendo with almost everything playing at once, the lush production and mixing adding to the enormity of the songs but also causing them to sound slightly clipped whenever things get too loud (which is at least once per song). As such Utica and Seneca don’t make much of an impact, sounding roughly the same as the first two songs but with different melodies, and with the former getting all the loud sections and the latter getting all the quiet ones.
Anniversary is the point where the album starts to break away from the sound it’s laid out, starting off quiet, slow and stripped back before gradually building up into a huge but gentle crescendo that gets steadily more electric as it goes on – but this time there’s still an entire second half to continue with. As the metaphorical wave breaks, and it gets reduced back to nothing but quiet guitar, the album takes an original turn – quietly, in the background, and not letting anything overpower anything else, you get cymbals crashing wildly and possibly the single most flashy guitar solo ever put on a folk song. Following a brief interlude things get even smaller, quieter and less in your face – State Lines is a beautifully understated ballad with deep and muffled drumming acting as one of the few accompaniments to Meredith-Lacey’s voice, the outro managing to find the balance between being loud and being uncluttered. Having loaded the front half of the album with seemingly everything possible in the studio, to the point where it feels slightly overwhelming, both the production and instrumentals take a step back during the second half to let the songs themselves shine. Sleepless slowly blooms around a memorable melody and double-tracked harmonies, getting better with every repetition of the chorus and proving itself to be one of the best-crafted songs on the album with how every instrument feels as though it adds something important. “Don’t go, you’re half of me now” he sings plaintively on the heartbreaking, country-tinged Repeat Until Death, stripping things back to the biggest extent so far on the album with slide guitar and piano in order to showcase the lyrics – simplistic but devastating and focusing on being unable to end a toxic relationship, ending when the chorus finally comes in to helplessly declare “I can’t seem to not need to need you” before finishing with a fade-out and a few seconds of silence to let it sink in. Continuing the country vibes with quiet banjo, and seeming like an extended outro to the last song despite the fade-out, Oh, Round Lake finishes the album on a subdued note.
Despite the occasionally formulaic writing and loud mixing job, Novo Amor’s ideas and lyrics shine through brighter as the album goes on and more restraint gets shown – and as far as debut albums go it’s certainly a good start to what will hopefully be a long and interesting career.
Genres… chamber pop, indie folk, indie rock
Best tracks… Emigrate, State Lines, Sleepless, Repeat Until Death