Into the Kaleidoscope
November used to be the time for the big guns to release their albums. It was Q4, the big push before Christmas, if a major act was going to issue an album it would be in November, get it into the shops, onto the racks, big publicity drive, big sales, big numbers. At least that’s how it used to be, even for indie artists. At least Coldplay still believe in Q4.
November has a certain atmosphere, once the clocks go back and journeys to and from work are either in half light or darkness. The post-fireworks and pre-Christmas period can bring a certain melancholy mood and I’ve always liked music to reflect that, whether issued that month or just falling into my life at the point. One of those albums to fit that mood this year has been “Into the Kaleidoscope” by Japonica.
I first became aware of Japonica last year when one of their songs was included in the Everything Indie Over 40 weekly new song expo, and I reviewed it favourably. In fact it stood out that week as quite a different sound, far from whatever definition of indie you may have. I was impressed and duly signed up on their mailing list, waiting for occasional messages of an ongoing album project. Finally that album is here (released 22nd November) and it fits the time of year perfectly.
Japonica are the brainchild of Jamie Farnell-Warren, a TV and film music composer, and the album has been developed over four years. There are traces in the music of Sigur Rós, Radiohead and Ryuichi Sakamoto, but the sound itself is quite unique. Songs will build from a simple piano pattern, layers of strings, synthesisers and other instruments are added. Farnell-Warren sings too, a warm intimate voice somewhere near Guy Garvey, the lyrics offer simple images, but add to the aural soundscape beautifully, enhancing the music. Sometimes – as on “Just to protect her” – the music will stall and multitracked harmonies will float across the song, like a choir in a school hall, washed in reverb.
This really isn’t explaining just how lovely the music is, but then how do you review a sunrise? This is an album which sets its mood up and sustains that mood throughout its forty nine minutes. Melodies flow into each other, piano and bass are mostly highlighted, guitars burn in the background, smothered in effects, chord changes swoop in unexpected directions, string arrangements surprise and delight. There are nods to contemporary modern composers like Michael Nyman and Johan Johansson, but this isn’t chin stroking music too clever for its own good. This music is luscious and richly textured, melodically inventive, sometimes heartwrenching, sometimes exhilarating, tension and crescendo, sustain and release.
It feels odd picking individual songs for attention because each song moves the album forward in its own way while maintaining the homogeneous sound of the album. Personal highlights? The tense introduction to “Through the mountains into the lake” perhaps. The delightful Penguin Cafe Orchestra bounce of “Hygge” maybe. The lilting drift of “Abandoned Abbey” which bursts into a drum machine led rave up. “Resferber” seems to channel some early 90s shoegaze into the mix too, which brings the album to a satisfying sense of closure.
Japonica have created their own sound world on their debut album and it’s gorgeous, moody, dramatic and the ideal soundtrack as November moves to December. Dark nights, bright lights, dive into the kaleidoscope, it’s dazzling.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rob writes about music and other less important subjects at his blog A Goldfish Called Regret (https://agoldfishcalledregret.wordpress.com) and also creates podcasts for Goldfish Radio (https://m.mixcloud.com/robmorgan589) and hosts the Everything Indie Over 40 album listening parties over at @eio40LPParty
He never achieved his ambition of making a Sarah Record.
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