Janus Review
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As a collaboration with fellow songwriter Alasdair Roberts—and, by extension, almost a dozen other musicians who contribute throughout the album—Matt Kivel’s third release, Janus, would initially appear to be the poster child for musical diversity. But while it does feature a plethora of instruments, as well as an astonishing gift for catchy melodies, the slow, methodical pace of each song coupled with some less than chipper lyrics will gradually rock you into a deep sleep, despite every effort to stay engaged.

The best way to approach Janus (and perhaps your only hope of getting through the whole album awake) is as a collection of great individual songs. Collectively, there’s simply not enough rhythmic diversity or lyrical substance to get you through more than seven at a time. Perhaps there may be more substance once a lyric sheet comes out, but the best one can do without it is discern what you can from the understandable lines of Kivel’s dialogue—which is enough for a general picture but not much else.

Since it’s such a melancholy affair, one would not expect much change in the pacing department. But what it lacks in pace, it attempts to remedy with instrumental diversity and dynamic shifts. But what’s really impressive is the balance with which Kivel spreads these elements out. While songs like “Janus,” “Prime Meridian,” and “Jamie’s” shift beautifully between soft, soothing mixes of strings and guitar to loud pierces and clashes of the same instruments, others, like “Violets,” “Pyrrha,” and “Janice,” stay soft while introducing new instruments like the drums, trumpet, and flute. Still others, like “No Return”—easily the album’s best song—stay simple, letting two guitars carry the composition.

Unfortunately, in this case, it may just be too much of a good thing—because by the time “The Shining Path” squeaks, creaks, and statics its way onto the scene, there’s no amount of gorgeous melodies, new instruments, dynamic shifts, or dark lyrics that can pull your eyelids back. “Orpheus” tries to liven things up with some bongo-like drumming, but by then your shoulders will be eight songs into a relaxing slump. And then “Palm Beach” swoops in with a flute solo and Kivel’s falsetto to complete the lullaby and whisk you off to dreamland. And it’s not these last three songs specifically—you could listen to this album in reverse and get the same effect on the last three songs—it’s just the type of album it is. I just can’t decide if that means that the album is good for relaxation or bad at making things interesting.

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