In ancient Roman religion and mythology, Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions. He is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past.
Two-faced is not a term one usually wants to be associated with, but for singing-songwriting-producing busy bee Ella Thompson, it’s a musical complement that best sums up her latest offering.
From working with mega Melbourne funk band The Bamboos, to being one-half of pop duo GL, Thompson has been a part of many new and exciting projects. After collaborating with the likes of Axolotl and Dorsal Fins, she went on to make cosmic-funk waves alongside GL bandmate Graeme Pogson, so it was only a matter of time before Thompson released her own record.
Her debut solo album Janus, is a delicate rainbow of ethereal electronica and unapologetic pop balladry. An acquired taste though, the mood is more gentle melancholia than sunny synth-pop.
‘Drift’ is a lullaby with eerie undertones. The ‘80s-drenched album opener is tinged with Willy Wonka sweetness, and although the looping lyrics (“you do me no good”) relate to something completely different, it still screams of a sonic exploration into childhood fantasies and musings that make you want to “drift” away.
Produced by John Castle (who has an ear for identifying incredible talent – his clients include Washington and Gossling), Thompson’s musical and lyrical inflections shift between husky mutterings and musings to subtly empowered bellows.
‘I Go Over’ is a propulsive and urgent pure pop number, but at the same time, evokes images of its airy pastel-infused Annelise Hickey video. As the title alluded to, it plays out like an oddly harmonious contradiction, and when the subtle synth beat drops, Thompson’s pop gossamer vocals soar over the dance-ready riff. It’s a clear stand-out on the album.
First single ‘Arcade’ evokes much more than the VHS-era music video by Jason Galea might suggest. Neon-lit and glossy, it’s a sci-fi tinged pop ballad with a hint of desperation and longing. Soaring synth textures underlay powerful yet dreamy vocals backed by a pulsating drum groove, however, this formula is repeated across most songs and becomes monotonous at times.
‘Taller’ is an eccentric, six-minute musical odyssey complete with echoey male intro and sci-fi effects. Flaming Lips-esque in its lengthy, moody composition and languid lyricism, it’s smacks of synthetic self-indulgence and is the most indistinguishable song on the album.
Finale ‘Losing You’ is the most grounding track, and Thompson’s voice is strong and self-assured. Popcorn beats underscore the melancholy musings, as Thompson admits “Baby, I’m so afraid of losing you”.
Unashamedly 80s-inspired and neo-psychedelic, Ella Thompson’s voice sporatically sparkles over a never-ending sea of penetrating synths and distorted, dreamy beats. A deliriously happy sound by no means, if her ten-track debut could be represented visually, Janus would be the lovechild of the Nyan Cat and The Black Dog!
Janus is out today through HUB via Caroline.