It’s seven years since their debut album was released, but Gary Raymond finds it was well worth the wait for Dos Bebés, the second album from Cardiff-based duo Rogue Jones.
If Rogue Jones’s 2016 debut album, VU, had them “deserving of a cult following” then their follow up, Dos Bebés, throws them assuredly, and perhaps unexpectedly, into the realms of “true contenders”, artists plying their craft not at the peripheries, but at the very centre of things. If VU was quirky and eccentric, Dos Bebés strides confidently and boldly, full of great songs built and presented with excellent musicianship and production. Rogue Jones have lost nothing of those charms that made the listener of that opener sit and up and arch that appreciative eyebrow, but they have grown, matured, filled out. It is a solid gold corker of a record, the difference between it and VU is the difference between recommending to friends over a pint that they should “check out that Rogue Jones album” and grabbing strangers in the street by the lapels and screaming into their faces YOU HAVE TO GO AND BUY THIS ALBUM!
If nothing else, it takes something for me to end a paragraph with an exclamation mark. But Dos Bebés is the kind of album that moves you to throw your script into the air with abandon. And this vibe is a cute trick, because it gives the impression that Rogue Jones operate in this space of spontaneity, throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. But this is a meticulously constructed record, crammed with ideas, not a single example of which isn’t perfectly deployed. Everything serves the song. The basis for one of these, “155 bpm” uses as its backbone the rhythm speed noted in the title; too fast, you might think, and you’d be right in theory. Rogue Jones have stated that it was too fast, but they had to roll with it. The reason is that 155 bpm was the speed of their second child’s heartrate on the initial scan. Too fast. But what they have done with that initial conceit is to fashion a masterful artpop experiment that begins with a vocal of theatrical rage from Bethan Mai and builds via a delicate emerging guitar riff into an utterly compelling and beautiful song. The album is not modest when it comes to such heights.
Dos Bebés is to an extent an album about parenthood, about motherhood, about a house chaotic with the joys and stresses of young children. If you’d wondered what Rogue Jones have been up to in the seven years between debut and follow-up, the answer is in this album: Bethan Mai and Ynyr Ifan have been raising a family together. But it’s also an album about lots of other things – UFOs, computer science, witchcraft, Danish cinema, Welsh independence. And none of this jars, none of it clunks. The eccentricity is part of the vibe, it is integral, and now Rogue Jones harness all this charm into a record of superbly crafted songs.
The influence of Frank Naughton is felt throughout, and the warm embrace of his Ty Drwg studio in Cardiff is a major player in the cohesion of the eccentricities and the streamlining of musical ideas. Other influences are frequent, but never overwhelm the sheer Rogue Jonesness of it all. No music writer worth his or her salt nowadays wants to be tempted by lazily comparing a female artist to Kate Bush, but it really is inescapable at times for Bethan Mai. Mai has cited her and Fiona Apple in the promo material for Dos Bebés, and it is remarkable just how close to Bush she gets at times (“155 bpm” could easily sit on The Dreaming or This Sensual World). Mai is now the full package, the real deal. Her songwriting is of the highest calibre, and her performances of them are full, all-out, razor-sharp and subtle by turns. The break on “Babette” brings out a guttural bellow that is strikingly Bush-ian.
But the joy of Dos Bebés is the joy of hearing a band find itself. Rogue Jones are no longer quirky, they are no longer eccentric, they are creators of an excellent album that should, if there is any justice in the world, propel them into every conversation being had about the best albums of 2023.
Dos Bebés is out now and is available to stream from all your usual music services.