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If you ask Liz Janes about her new album, Say Goodbye, she’ll tell you she wanted to make a soul record. Now, before you start gettin’ any James Brownian ideas, let’s let Liz explain. Says Liz she loves noise and experimentation far too much to make it straight and, “Besides, I’m not a real soul singer. I wanted to make music with real meaning, that would be nourishing and comforting to the listener. I wanted the music to be inspirational and full of light—without ignoring life’s violence.” And now we present Say Goodbye. A wholly new thing. A departure from what came before and an adventure story and hard luck tale all in one. It’s a coming of age record, a record about the loss of innocence and the insistence on staying soft, of keeping the meanness of life from ossifying your heart. This is Liz fighting to make sense of the world and offering up a goodhearted, unpretentious experimental pop record.
Previous Asthmatic Kitty releases, the Sufjan Stevens produced Done Gone Fire (2002), her 2005 collaboration with Los Angeles free-jazzers Create(!), and her second full-length, Poison & Snakes (2004), saw Liz existing in a world and scene she helped create, a sound that was close cousins to the avant-Americana journeys of labelmates Castanets (who Liz has performed as a member of) and Liz’s old buddy and Toro Sec Toro bandmate Arrington de Diynoso. Fact is Liz has a resume that reads like the table of contents of the sweetest music ‘zine ever. She’s played with folks like the Black Heart Procession, been a member of Sufjan Stevens’ touring outfit, even backed up Jandek on stage. All this plays into the content and character of the intensely personal Say Goodbye.
It’s a beautiful thing to watch the progression here, to take her four records back to back. It’s a natural and human process, the journey from those first songs produced by Sufjan (the very first songs she ever wrote, no less) to Say Goodbye’s 11-piece set of life and philosophy. (Says Liz, “This record is naturally an expression of my world view.”) Liz first wrote these songs a cappella. Now since they were a cappella and unlike any of the work she’d done in the past she wasn’t quite sure how to flesh them out with instrumentation, how to get them from the singin’-in-the-car stage to the singing-in-front-of-an-audience-on-a-stage stage. Enter Chris Schlarb of Create(!) and I Heart Lung. Chris and Liz teamed up in ’08 and started puttin’ their heads together. Vocals got guitar parts. Fragments became structure. Next over the course of four days this January and a day and a half in February, Liz met up with Asthmatic Kitty artist and super accomplished producerman Rafter Roberts and they made them a record! Rafter added the Rafter magic to what Chris and Liz had already done and, as the dude does, played a ton of instruments and wrote a ton of new parts and made the record into the beautiful, elaborate, living creature it is now.
“I Don’t Believe,” one of the Schlarb collabs, opens the record with a jazzy clatter of drums then lays down a mellow, head-nodding soft rock groove that leads into a buttery smooth horn-backed passage through the rough and tumble existential waters of the lyrics. (Is the song about love of a lover or love of a higher power? You decide.) The 56-second-long “Tincture 1” is up next with Liz singing “a tincture, a fracture, a mixture, a master” over angelically strummed guitar and the softest touch of lullabying glockenspiel. “Bitty Thing” is a beautifully orchestrated piece of questioning and melancholy which is one of the things Liz does best. But the big surprise here is how the piece progresses. Midway through the song, everything’s building (patiently) and then wwwham the dynamics swing (though naturally) and bust into a big explosion of noise and catharsis and then back into carefully beautiful electronics and guitars with a long gentle release and withdrawal into dreamlike, aqueous bliss. (It’s on tracks like this that you really see how satisfying the combo of noise plus discipled songwriting can be.)
The fourth song, “Anchor,” begins with a stark acoustic guitar minor-chording along as Liz essays running away and disconnection, her voice a gorgeous swell of big, open room reverb. After that the Schlarb co-written “Bodies” is half peak-era Lauryn Hill, half Astral Weeks Van Morrison—and those horns! Wait ’til you hear the horns! The Motowny horns come on and your heart will just leap and fill up with a gallon of love. The song becomes a heavy, dark kind of noise-informed jazz, totally modern, totally timeless. “Up from Down” echoes a sonic theme from “Tincture” and its questioning and vulnerability leads to the equally soul-searching “Who Will Take Care of Me,” a full-band examination of inner strength and opening your heart, of mortal fear and mystery. (Says Liz, “I believe in mystery—both the wonder and the horror of it. Songwriting helps me to make sense of it all.”)
Up next the “Tincture” reprise, “Tincture 2,” kicks off with a lovely burble of psyche guitar and electronics, a beautiful little headphones-friendly moment in a record full of them. (Spend some time with this intro; stick those big old clunky hi-fi headphones on and turn it up loud; there’s a lot going on here.) “Firefly” follows “Tincture 2” up with a subtle ode to the tough times of being a young parent. The drums are jazz-brushed and subdued, a tinkle of piano, a steady, mellow kind of space-pop music.
The second to last track, “Trees,” is the most R&B song on the record and some of Liz’s best lyrics to date about very hard and personal subjects. “That was the year all space caved in,” she sings and you know she means it and you know it hurts. But there’s hope. Understanding. She’s learned. She’s come to conclusions and found some solace in a hostile terrain. The result is nothing short of inspiring. And the horns! Again those glorious horns! By song’s end they come on and lift the track up into a celebratory height, a hard bit of living, of harrowing times and spirits tempered by the belief it takes to push on. “Time and Space” is the final track, solidly driving home the record’s conclusion with a spiritual look at ideas of grace and the natural human longing for a life after and beyond the clumsy ol’ earthbound life we’re living.
And so we present Say Goodbye, a record concerned with faith and parenthood, grace and tenderness. Say Goodbye is an album that puts up the oaken shield and notched broad sword in the face of self-doubt and devastation. A record for survivors of storms and for lovers of courageous action. This is Liz Janes. This is her soul music.
1. I Don’t Believe – 5:30
2. Tincture 1 – 0:56
3. Bitty Thing – 4:33
4. Anchor – 3:54
5. Bodies – 3:22
6. Up From Down – 1:41
7. Who Will Take Care – 3:05
8. Tincture 2 – 1:18
9. Firefly – 3:01
10. Trees – 4:11
11. Time & Space – 4:26
- "Janes imbues each track with such an effortless glow that it’s hard not to recommend, especially in the gray-blue dead of winter." AllMusic
- "Liz Janes has made a calming, astral beauty of a record with Say Goodbye, one that hits all the right notes" Mixtape Muse
- "Janes' trained hands skillfully navigate her moorland soundscape, roiling from dream to dream like a slumbering patient comfortably etherized upon a table." Sputnik Music
- " If ever the much-abused descriptor “organic” actually applied to an album, it’s this offering from Liz Janes, she of the silver throat and seemingly golden heart." Stereo Subversion