Janus, the third album from LA songwriter Matt Kivel, might be one of the more interesting releases I have heard in a long time. Kivel, who has quite the musical resume that includes mostly full band work (i.e. Princeton, Gap Dream), has branched out and landed on a more folk and atmospheric sound on the LP that drops Friday, February 5th. It is strangely personal and disarming, while making the listener extremely uncomfortable at times (just give “Jaime’s” a listen). What Kivel does so well is his talent to go beyond words to build an environment of sound that forces you to feel many different emotions at varying levels of intensity.
The title track that starts it all, wakes the album up and beautifully creates the narrative that is to be spoken throughout. Slow at the start, the track seems to stop time for the five and a half minutes it takes to unfold. Kivel’s vocal quiver fits perfectly into whatever genre listeners would describe this as. While all music is difficult to label, this song is especially so. The instrumentation is gorgeous and speaks volumes of just how talented Kivel is as well as the imprint of producer Alasdair Roberts, whose Glasgow couch the songwriter crashed on during recording. The chemistry is palpable.
“Violets” reminds listeners of Father John Misty mixed with melancholy and haunting guitar throughout. The lyrics here, as well as with most of the album, are difficult to grasp, but I think it plays nicely with the sound he constructs. This tune might put you in a nostalgic state while flashing memories that seemed to be forgotten. It beckons to something deeper within us.
“Prime Meridian” starts like a type of folk lullaby before launching into a dynamic jazz infused experiment of noise and chaos. This song might be the best illustration of what Kivel is doing on the album. He is never afraid to go down a musical path, and he is talented enough for us to follow along while soaking up every displaced note.
Janus will not be for everyone. I knew immediately that I liked it, but I wasn’t exactly sure why. It might take a little while for you to catch what is going on exactly on the nuanced album. However, it is dynamic enough that it excels even at a surface listening. Matt Kivel is an honest and confidently broken songwriter who you should take note of. If you enjoy emotive and existential musings of a man working out his talent with his eyes firmly on the future of what folk music could be, then look no further than the exceptional Janus.