Back in 2012 I reviewed an intriguing album on Cuneiform Records by husband and wife duo Janel & Anthony entitled Where Is Home, a collection of uniquely constructed songs that brought to my attention a highly individual pair of songwriters. Earlier this year I received a package containing two CDs by the female half of the pair, Janel Leppin.
Janel Leppin – Songs for Voice and Mellotron
First off is a 23-minute EP by the name of Songs for Voice and Mellotron. Primarily a cellist, Janel is a multi-talented musician, and as well as the Mellotron, she plays synths and electronics on this beguiling EP. Recorded during a time when she could not play her beloved cello due to an elbow injury, the EP was originally going to be called ‘Music of the One Armed Woman’.
Circumstances therefore forcing her into other musical avenues, the music on the EP is pared back, revealing the songform for all to see, and a quite immersive experience it is too. On the eight-minute Union Arts Janel’s subtle keyboard drones form the backdrop for a stunning example of voice-as-instrument, as the multi-tracked and treated wordless vocal echoes and swoops around the soundstage.
Lyrically a more political beast than the accompanying album, the sentiments expressed in a world weary and resigned manner are impossible to disagree with if you have a quantum of soul. In A Dream is an angry lament to man’s destruction of his home and the legacy it leaves for the children. Echoing and discordant it will agitate your conscience. The song Paris is a lament for senseless death, destruction and displacement the world over and its tragic human consequences, a subject that Janel tackles with sensitivity and hope. These things need saying, and the cat obviously agrees!
01. Locked Boxes (2:43)
02. In A Dream (5:42)
03. Paris (2:55)
04. Union Arts (8:01)
05. Wedding song (1:57)
Total time – 21:23
Janel Leppin – Vocals, Mellotron 4000D, Prophet 5 Synthesizer, Electronics
Record Label: Wedderburn Records
Year Of Release: 2016
Janel Leppin – Mellow Diamond
Janel’s full album sees her take on a much wider variety of instrumentation and the end result is homespun and otherworldly in equal measure.
It may be too tempting to mention the usual iconic left-field female songwriters and performers to give the uninitiated a comparison to hang on to, but let’s take a different tack. There are parts of this album where the music puts me in mind early ’80s post-punk innovation, and of David Sylvian, and John Cale at his most ruminative, and sometimes a Siouxsie vibe is detected, but hey, there’s sound samples to listen to, you don’t need me telling you what it supposedly sounds like! Suffice to say Janel Leppin is a woman with a vivid imagination and a strong sense of artistic purpose that illuminates the firmament with a soft but determined focus.
Ruminations on personal freedom, love, home and hearth, destruction of Nature in the name of rampant consumption and greed, and stubborn martyrdom inform the first five songs on the album, Mellow Diamond being a work of two halves, with the remainder comprising increasingly spacious and spacey semi-ambient instrumentals, those being linked by three short pieces under the title Echo Location, the last of which ends the album after the one track where Janel’s prime instrument, the cello, is given centre stage.
The spirit of Alice Coltrane guides the music on a journey to the outer cosmos, where you may well find space whispers accompanying slow and thoughtful plucked koto, here sounding not unlike a banjo. Drifting by, we spy a marooned tumbledown shack with the contemplative player sitting on the porch coaxing a slow and introspective melody out of the imagined bluegrass instrument, as the shack floats through a star clustered dreamscape out of place and time.
Those two songs featuring the koto are Cast in Gold and Belly of the Beast, and they are gorgeously dislocated affairs that transport the listener into Janel’s enticing soundworld on this self-produced album, all lovingly engineered by Mike Reina.
Mike’s way with a studio console and Janel’s sonic experimentation, already well in evidence during the “songs” section of the record come to the fore during the “instrumental” half, which appears to take inspiration from classic Kosmische music, while retaining a bluesy feel in places courtesy of Janel’s wonky slide guitar, and later the cello adds its own special aching melancholy. Check out the instrument credits below, which will give you a good idea of the displaced but involving atmosphere created.
These two releases are prime listening for those of us always on the lookout for something a tad different, and there is no reason why those of you of a more traditional disposition should be put off as the avant on display herein is of the gentler kind.
01. Stacks of Wood (4:56)
02. No Treaty (3:16)
03. Her Tale Was Cut In Two (7:11)
04. Cast in Gold (3:46)
05. Belly of the Beast (7:10)
06. Echo Location I (0:27)
07. Mellow Diamond (2:09)
08. Echo Location II (0:47)
09. Namesake (5:18)
10. The Past is Lo-fi (4:59)
11. Echo Location III (0:54)
Total time – 40:53
Janel Leppin – Vocals, Cello, Koto, Pedal Steel, Arp 2600, Prophet 5 Synthesizer, Korg MS-20, Modular Synthesizer, Optigan, Mellotron, Mini Moog, Grand Piano, Upright Piano, Harpsichord, Bowed and Struck Vibraphone, Electronics, Drums, Bass, Guitar, Radio Frequencies, Footsteps, Record Collage, Struck Pan Lids, Tape Loops
Record Label: Wedderburn Records
Year Of Release: 2016