Katje JanischKatje Janisch
Album: West Of Twilight
Label: Reverb Worship
Tracks: 10

Katje's a songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist of unknown origin (well, there's no biographical information on her website) who appears to be based in Gainesville, Florida. She's been recording demos of her own songs since the early-to-mid-2000s, some of which have surfaced on the internet over the years I'm told, but the album West Of Twilight is the first time any of her songs have attained a proper recording, let alone a proper release, this circumstance now being due to the commendable enterprise of the label Reverb Worship, which specialises in hand-crafted limited-editions (hence the album's current availability only as a download, the physical edition having long since sold out).

Katje's music can be roughly described as gentle wyrd-/psych-folk, and it certainly shares a kinship with artists such as Vashti Bunyan and Espers, while there's also hints of the music of names from the more distant past like Mellow Candle and Stone Angel. Overall, Katje's personal sound-world is bright and wide-eyed, these qualities stemming mostly from her inventive musical settings that involve an impressive kaleidoscope of instrumental colours and textures, ensuring that each individual song glistens and glitters like a polished jewel. Katje understands the sonic and expressive properties of each instrument - guitar, piano, recorder, glockenspiel, cello, percussion - all of which she plays herself, and expertly too. I also detect occasional hints of keyboard-synthesiser, but this is more ghostly than artificial in tone and actually enhances the wyrd impact of the whole. The delicate, shimmering and often unearthly textures both reflect and reflect upon Katje's haunting, if at times elusive mythical lyrics, and as a result the impact of songs like The Ancestors, Neptune's Dream and The Golden Cup is spectral, wispy and slightly intangible.

Katje's singing voice is at once fragile and precisely present, its tone deceptively pungent in its vulnerability. The balanced sound-picture of Katje's vocals constantly shifts, and she makes much use of spatial separation and perspective, yet these methods are entirely and uncannily in tune with the ethereal, limpid gentleness of her lyrics. Queen Of Swords is singularly unsettling, with its classical guitar and lute-like courtly demeanour disturbed by added background harmonies and strangely insistent snare-drumbeats, until the tension just can't be resolved and the song collapses in eerie discords. Seven continues the refracted-troubadour mood, with sombre clarinet and cello imparting a Dowland-like melancholy to the riddlesome lyric. Cordelia's Lament also employs a nagging percussive motif (this time on pizzicato strings) to rub against the rippling guitar figure. All quite spellbinding, if not always ideally easy to get a handle on.

In all, there's a warmly compelling and wistful magnetism to the magical music on this album, yet its atmosphere of shifting focus (especially with Katje's vocals) demands close immersion and thus the album may not reveal all its charms on first or even second hearing.

David Kidman