You know in the first three minutes of meeting someone whether or not you’re going to get along with them. I’d say it takes even less time to know if a song was written by an artist with any longevity or depth, though perhaps I feel that way because I have developed far more intimate relationships with records than people. Each and every day, I click through links in my inbox to music from bands I’ve barely heard of, if at all, and it’s all worth it when something finally grabs me after hundreds if not thousands of wasted minutes.
One such rare discovery is Janita, whose new album Didn’t You, My Dear has been my go-to for the past few weeks, among a few other albums you already know about from, oh, louder genres. When I heard the first song, knowing nothing about her background, immediately I felt like I was listening to an artist that had put in far more than a thousand hours, inspired and mature, with a perfectly efficient connection from her heart to my ears. Big comparisons were easily drawn, to the likes of Sarah McLachlan, Fiona Apple, a less batshit Tori Amos, a more experienced Natasha Khan.
Sure enough, Janita has been around the block a bit. She built her career as a Top 40 pop star in her native Finland, and that success continued to find and support her when she moved to Brooklyn at age 17. Then, around 2010, she worked with Meshell Ndegeocello, who turned her onto artists such as PJ Harvey, Radiohead, Hole, and Tom Waits, whose Clap Hands Janita creatively covers towards the end of this new album. She apparently had something of a revelation around then though, and in a sharp deviation from the sort of euro-tinged pseudo-jazzy dance pop she had been doing, out came her last LP, an alternative rock album called Haunted. But pop clichés still lingered in the songwriting and the lyrics, and it just wasn’t as confident or effective as this year’s follow-up.
The songs’ backing tracks are alive, and analog, masterfully produced by Blake Morgan, but by no means edgy, placing the album some distance away from the rock genres typically covered here. What can be appreciated universally is the beauty and sincerity of Janita’s vocal expressions. Silky, with a subtle vibrato that’s never overdone, her voice glides and soars, often in layers, over and through the peaks and valleys of the dynamic compositions.
The lyrical subject matter is mostly relatable matters of the human condition, poetically stated but not obfuscated by deep metaphors or analogies; for the most part, the songs’ points are slow pitches thrown right down the center. With that kind of delivery, there’s often a real fine line between potent and hackneyed. There’s nothing new to say in a love song, really. But Janita draws you in so deeply with her smooth, warm crooning, the specific words tend to fade from focus as little more than delivery mechanisms for the raw emotion. Easing Into Sanity is probably the most immersive in this way, and there are few moments on any album this year as comfortable to live in as Janita’s oooh-ooh-ooh-ooh in the song’s chorus.
The first four tracks are all an impressively solid block, in fact, from the opener Some Serious Gravity that instantly pulled me in, through lead single Traces Upon Your Face:
Who’s Gonna Tell The Wolf She’s Not A Dog is a noteworthy cut as well, being the centerpiece of the album and the source of its title, delivered in a crescendo of minor chords in the bridge: You always knew, didn’t you, my dear? This is followed by the pre-chorus: I call no one master, I wear my own name. I own my body, I own my own brain. I used to lay down and die… This might be an exception to the album’s general description, a metaphor that could be taken a few different ways. It could be about an intimate relationship, or it could be about her career and its relatively new direction. In that context, it would seem to complement a particularly powerful line in What My Silence Means: How would you know what my silence means? Why do you trust me, I’m not free… I set myself free…
These statements seem cogently self-aware, as if Janita is doing inventory, and setting the terms of her engagement with her music and its listeners as she moves forward. The confidence and maturity found throughout Didn’t You, My Dear qualifies it as a breakthrough, backs up those words and establishes a respect for her freshly evolved artistic identity.
On Janita's Didn't You, My Dear, The music is alive, and analog, masterfully produced by Blake Morgan, but by no means edgy, placing the album some distance away from the rock genres typically covered here. What can be appreciated universally is the beauty and sincerity of Janita's vocal expressions. Silky, with a subtle vibrato that's never overdone, her voice glides and soars, often in layers, over and through the peaks and valleys of the dynamic compositions.