Janel and Anthony – Where Is Home (2012)

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When it comes to boy/girl musical acts, there’s nothing typical at all about Washington, D.C.-based duo Janel & Anthony. They don’t sing, they don’t play jazz, they sure as hell don’t play pop — though given their extensive collective background in music from all over the world — it wouldn’t be hard for them to adapt to any of the stereotypes. Instead, they’ve struck out on their own path, and it starts with their instrumentation: Janel Leppin excels at the cello, while Anthony Pirog is a virtuoso at guitar, and both dabble in a number of other instruments. Janel will play modified cellos, a harpsichord, a Japanese koto, play a vintage analog synthesizer and generate electronic washes; Anthony will play guitars of all stripes, including an electric sitar, lap steel and a baritone guitar. Both of them make great use of loops, too.

With this odd array of instruments, they create music that can only be classified as “experimental” because there’s no formal category to put it in. Going by the acts they’ve toured with (Mary Halvorson/Jessica Pavone, Peter Brötzmann, Andrea Parkins and Eugene Chadbourne, they’re at home with the avant-garde set. Going by listening to the music of their second album Where Is Home, their first one with Cuneiform Records, confirms it.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Read how top avant guitarist Mary Halvorson handled the success of her breakthrough Saturn Sings album with her new follow-up Bending Bridges.]

There’s a new age/ambient tenor with Where Is Home that comes from the dreamy soundscapes, the total lack of percussion and a de-emphasis on outright improvisation. Dig deeper, and you’ll find they are masters at putting together countless, intricate touches with a chamber music ideal to create sonically rich tapestry. With folk-like melodies, each song breathes like an organism, helped along by an intelligent use of electronics to enhance, not overtake, their main areas of skills with the cello and guitar. This being an analog recording didn’t hurt, either. From the bluegrass tempo of “Big Sur” (video of live performance below) to the gentle wash of “Leaving The Woods” to the sometimes noisy, confused state of “Where Will We Go,” each song tells a story by the moods they convey.

A team that seems capable of performing anything, Janel & Anthony choose the path of high art. Where Is Home should find a home of anyone who appreciates and enjoys experimental music that’s soothing and layered enough to reveal something new with each listen.

Released on May 22 by Cuneiform Records. Visit Janel & Anthony’s website for more info.

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