Thursday, September 06, 2012

Janel & Anthony—Where Is Home (Cuneiform)

Janel & Anthony’s music is both personal and personable. I like that they’ve chosen to feature themselves on the cover of Where Is Home, posed amongst quaint objects, musical and otherwise. They could have used a photo of a derelict barn or a misty birch grove for the cover, but they didn’t. There they are: “We’re the two people who made this music.” Even before the record gets played, we have names and faces; a human connection to the art that lies inside the jewel case.

Janel Leppin and Anthony Pirog are both active in the Washington DC experimental music scene. They make music separately and together. This is their second album as a duo. Janel plays cello and guitar; Anthony plays guitar. Those instruments create the foundation of their sound, but they also use looping to build layers and establish backdrops for solos. A few other instruments—various keyboards and percussion odds and ends—are in the mix as well. There are some jazz and folk flavours in their music, but they’re blended into the duo’s own elusive style. It’s detailed and exploratory, spacious and often wistful, and very well mannered. No single instrument dominates the space. Janel and Anthony clearly have a high-functioning, harmonious musical partnership.

Their songs are for the most part tight and disciplined with ear-grabbing, repeating themes and space reserved for non-indulgent soloing. The rapid-fire “Big Sur” is some kind of a gypsy bluegrass hoedown, driven by Leppin’s ostinado, Pirog’s twangy picking, and some exciting unison runs. Many of the other tracks are more sombre, like the wistful “Leaving the Woods” and its gliding guitar lines, volume swells, and of course, the cello moaning away, not shying away from its status as the world’s saddest instrument. “Mustang Song” has them both on guitar, picking out a haunting tune that’s like a tidier, more elaborate take on what Earth are doing these days. Linking most of the longer tracks are short, spontaneous-sounding pieces that vibrate in sympathy with their neighbours and keep the album flowing. Of these, “’Cross the Williamsburg Bridge” and “Auburn Road” stand out as lovely little tunes.

For all their inventiveness in making such elaborate music as a duo, Janel & Anthony’s music brims with emotion and personality. Where Is Home is a gem, and seriously cool from start to finish.

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