REVIEW: Janita – Here Be Dragons

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Elitist music snobbery is a sensitive business and, based on my own experience in the field, I think everyone for whom music is a passion rather than wallpaper goes through that phase at some point. It goes without saying that a devoted advocate of the Devil’s music such as the twenty-something version of me would have had no business whatsoever with anything even remotely related to teeny-pop. Catching myself enjoying such music in adolescence would have felt as though some weird social cost had been imposed upon my person, almost as if I had admitted to experimenting with hard drugs in the middle of a job interview. Back in 1994, I would have had none of that – never! Fast forwarding a good number of years I will find myself holding a CD release of a Finnish solo artist whose fame was practically built on soul-tinted teeny-pop hits in the early 1990s. The starlet was Janita and her 2003 single “Huomenna Kaikki On Paremmin” won me over at first soundbite faster than a high-speed train heading for derailment. Of course, it was written in the stars, what with the song channeling the smooth and jazzy electronica of some of the trending artists of the era such as 4-HERO and JAZZANOVA. The new material marked a distinct departure from the pop realms of her earlier albums. It also served as the defining moment when even the latent music snob in me finally had to admit that listening to Janita‘s music was no longer uncool. Now, I guess it’s safe to admit that I liked some of her early stuff too. Then, she practically disappeared from my musical radar completely – until now. On May 14th, 2021, Janita‘s new studio outing titled “Here Be Dragons” was released via the independent label, ECR Music Group, and for the casual listener, it turned out to be jam-packed with all sorts of surprises. First of all, it was created under the tutelage of the New York City indie-music luminary, Blake Morgan. There is hardly anything left of the old style but I’m pretty confident that no one will mind. On her new album, Janita is on fire.

The opening track, “I Do,” sets the mood for the whole album with its minimalistic approach to melancholy. The arrangement is sparse and spacious, so the emotional impact stems from the strong, almost Beatlesian melodies and Janita‘s soulful vocal delivery. It is the recipe for success throughout the album. On occasion, the melodic turns and vocal phrasing trigger flashbacks of bands and artists such as THE FLAMING LIPS (“When It’s All Up To You”), RADIOHEAD (“Dime A Dozen”), or even Jeff Buckley (“Next To You”). The Mellotron snippets, in particular, punctuate THE BEATLES vibes with a hint of BAT FOR LASHES on the track, “Our Love Is All We Have,” and the track, “I Forgive You,” resonates with the acoustic aura of the 2008 GOLDFRAPP album, “Seventh Tree.” The mosaic of emotions patterned by all these sonic vignets is deeply haunting, so it is no wonder why critics seem to fall in love with the album all over the world. We humans simply love good stories – stories that move us either emotionally or to action. “Here Be Dragons” is abound with such stories all up to its title.

Some early maps have illustrations of mythological creatures, such as dragons, on the uncharted areas as though indicating danger. In imitation of this medieval practice some potentially more humorist cartographers used the text, “Hic sunt dracones,” instead. This Latin phrase means, “Here be dragons,” in English. Maybe it suggests in the album’s title that there is uncharted territory inside each one of us, inhabited by the dark dragons of our shortcomings. In a way, the cover rendition of the Peter Gabriel classic, “Digging In The Dirt,” could confirm this; in order to make sense of the world outside, we first need to make sense of our inner turmoils – dig in the dirt. Janita‘s version pays homage to the original rather nicely, stressing the importance of hope and compassion. What more could I possibly say about the album? Who would have guessed, say, twenty-five to thirty years ago that I am going to say this in public and really mean it: the new Janita album is pure gold.

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. I Do
  2. Bliss I Once Had This   
  3. When It’s All Up To You   
  4. Not What You’re Used To   
  5. I Forgive You   
  6. Our Love Is All We Have   
  7. Next To You   
  8. Digging In The Dirt   
  9. Dime A Dozen   
  10. Start From Scratch

Lineup

Janita: vocals, guitar
Blake Morgan: guitar
Justin Goldner: bass guitar
Miles East: drums

Label

ECR Music Group

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