And lo, the time came to pass when I finally stopped arsing around and put fingers to keyboard, to bring you the (sort-of) definitive review of Steve’s 2016 opus ‘tender extinction’. Rest assured, you will not just have to put up me being all dewy-eyed about this new release, as many other fine folk have contributed to this piece and we all have different views and opinions about the body of work which was so deliciously served up to us last month. So, before we kick off, I’d just like to thank everyone who has taken time out to put their two-penneth in; it always makes for an interesting read when we do a collaborative post, methinks.
Blimey, it’s been a long time coming, hasn’t it? I remember a couple of years ago (on ‘sleepyard’) Steve suggesting he needed a Kick*stopper* project setting up, to get him to stop fiddling with it and finally get it released, which raised a wry smile in many quarters; but he wasn’t wrong, was he? However, it is now here with us. In our homes, in our cars, in our earphones. So, how was it for you?
I have to confess to being slightly discombobulated when I first listened to it. I think I had just been expecting too much and had got myself into a bit of a tizzy about the whole thing, so when I *finally* got my grubby mits on a copy, there was bound to be a slight sense of “oh……erm…..OK” about it all. This wasn’t helped by the first track, which was all too familiar to my ears – ‘captured through a quiet window’ is one of my all-time favourite pieces of music and, as much as I admire Thomas Feiner (and I really, really do), I just felt that his vocal detracted from the beauty of the track. So, not off to the best of starts sadly.
Fortunately, the track which follows pretty much stopped me in my tracks. Everything about ‘sadness’ makes me ache with an almost melancholy joy (an oxymoron too far?) – the haunting, repetitive instrumentation, with Melentini’s incredibly evocative vocals weaving their way through the soundscape; well, it is all just too beautiful. Absolutely outstanding.
Of the other vocal tracks on the album, I have mixed thoughts. Whilst I love both Perry Blake and Tim Elsenburg’s contributions, I still struggle somewhat with ‘faced with nothing’; Nicola’s voice is just that wee bit too wobbly for my liking and I long to hear a purely instrumental version of this song. It is a real shame, because I do like the ‘sound’ of the piece, I just get terribly distracted by the tremulous nature of it.
As a huge fan of the marvellous Mr Elsenburg and his band of merry pilgrims, I was always going to be delighted with yet another Jansen/Elsenburg collaboration, and ‘give yourself a name’ really does hit the spot for me. Tim’s masterful lyrics reflect the clockwork-like complexity of Steve’s composition perfectly. I can even forgive him for breaking out into a chorus of ‘la-la-la-s’ halfway through the piece. (Just) . Check that lovely bassline and the crashing cymbals too. Lushness personified.
It is the instrumental tracks which really stand out for me, especially ‘memory of an imagined place’, ‘mending a secret’ and ‘diaphanous one’ (which feels very much like a companion piece to ‘sadness’). For someone with an annoyingly perky disposition, I don’t half love moody and melancholy music (I was a pretty rubbish goth for a while in the mid-80s), and the cello on ‘memory….’ almost reduces me to tears; which is just about the best response possible in my book. I think ones of Steve’s most accomplished moves as a composer and musician, is the inclusion of a handful of absolutely sublime musicians; the trumpet, cello and flute all lift their respective pieces to an utterly magical place.
I have heard a few folk say that the album didn’t ‘grab them’ upon first hearing it. I do agree to some extent, but that is no reason to give up on it. Like all the best music, ‘tender extinction’ requires patience and time to fully appreciate. To my ears, the most successful tracks are the instrumentals; not because the vocalists aren’t of a fascinating calibre, but simply because Steve Jansen creates the most sublime soundscapes, so it feels almost heresy to muddy them with vocals. I don’t want my music to be ‘easy’, I want to explore and discover new layers, with each listen. In a perfect world, (the one where my place is queen and everyone does as I command), Steve’s next move would be to release instrumental versions of ‘slope’ and ‘tender extinction’, as a double CD and exquisitely packaged. I shan’t hold my breath though.
Right, that’s enough of me and my over-rated opinions. Time for some other people to stick their oar in and have their say.
“The mood and lyric content on the album subtly addresses aspects of transience and transformation and the complexities of holding onto what we feel is precious.” Steve Jansen on ‘tender extinction’
As a long-time Japan/Jansen fan, Becky Olenchak was thrilled when her copy arrived in South Carolina; perfect timing after she had been through a particularly gruelling week. Here’s what she had to say…….
“Without intending to overstate the case, ‘Tender Extinction’ is truly compelling listening from beginning to end for me. Each time I play any given track, I hear something new and intriguing…exploring all these incredible sounds has been such a lovely adventure so far. “Memory Of An Imagined Place”, “Her Distance” and “Mending A Secret” are particular stand-outs to me at this point, but I could really sing the entire album’s praises all day long. And I am sure that everyone else is at least thinking this, but it’s great to hear Steve as a vocalist again (on “And Birds Sing All Night” and “Mending A Secret”).”
Equally pleased to receive her copy of ‘tender extinction’ was Daniela Mendes; “Been listening to the digital download everyday (several times a day, in fact). I couldn’t be more pleased with this album – it did not disappoint one bit. For starters, I was pleasantly surprised at the revamped outro/ending of Faced With Nothing (no more “beeps and clicks” which were my favourite part of the single version!). The cello on Memory Of An Imagined Place is beautifully chilling. Her Distance and Give Yourself A Name – those tracks slowly grew on me… by my 2nd listen I was hooked. (Note SJ’s backing vocals on the Perry Blake track!) My favourite tracks are Mending A Secret and And Birds Sing All Night. When I first listened to the former, I thought “Aha! Classic, his vocals are nicely blended with the music, just like I thought!” But when the last track started playing, my jaw dropped – I couldn’t believe SJ’s actually singing undisguised on a track again… My first impression was that it’s almost like a lullaby. The flute intro gets me every time :’) And then I promptly put the track and the whole album on repeat…..”
My old mucker Craig Hamlin felt compelled to have his say too – “I have lived with the new album for a week or so now, and it really is quite lovely. Its hard to give a definitive review ….. it always takes some months, and lots of revisiting to completely get to grips with any album. Slope is one hard act to follow. That is, and always will be, a classic album. Using a similar template of different vocalists for different songs, Tender Extinction has a varied approach of different sounds that all hangs together surprisingly well. I was particularly excited prior to release, to read that Steve was playing electric guitar on a few tracks. Whilst not the Hendrix freak-out I was hoping for, and though low in the mix, still nice to hear some `dirty` lines reveal themselves. But I must confess that it’s the tracks that feature more of Steve that I prefer. It doesn’t feel as though the songs being sung by others are as strong as those from Slope. That said, I do love track 1 – Captured featuring Thomas Feiner. And I really like Memory Of An Imagined Place, Diaphanous One, Mending A Secret and Simple Day too, and its great to hear his voice on `And Birds Sing All Night`. A really lovely piece to end the album on. So to sum up my first impressions ….. a lovely album of beautiful sound-scapes, but needing a little more time to appreciate the other vocalists used. I`ll keep coming back to this album over the (longed-for) summer …. Looking forward to some quiet moments in the garden with a glass of something nice.”
Finally, I shall hand over the reins to a man who knows a thing or two about the career of Mr Jansen and whose unrelenting support of the artists-formerly-known-as-Japan, knows no bounds. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Paul Rymer …..
“Tender Extinction is one of those albums that deserves to be listened to in full; each track is complimentary to the others, and the sequence is important – and in some cases dictated as several tracks segue into one-another. It is one of the best albums from the entire Japan and solo catalogue. In a catalogue that is full of many gems that is a compliment.
This album will join a core in my collection that somehow connect with me deeply – the others are “Lisa” by Masahide Sakuma, “Silence” by Dip In The Pool, “Interior” by Interior and “Rain Tree Crow”. These albums are my go-to if I want to clear my mind, feel a range of emotions and emerge feeling better. I don’t know why they have stayed with me; not all of the tracks are strong songs, the majority are instrumental, but something clicks and remains memorable.
What is consistent across all of the albums above is the attention to detail paid in the arrangement and mix – there is definitely a sense of intimacy but also space to breathe. A second factor is a sense of beauty and harmony mixed with more downbeat emotions. A mixture of synths, strings, drums and percussion – a certain rawness but also a measure of velvety comfort. The best examples of this are the first and last tracks, where the instrumentation is lush and melodic, almost idyllic in the case of “And Birds Sing All Night”, but with slightly harsh vocals, sung quietly and close, personal, real.”
With thank to Becky, Daniela, Craig and Paul for their contributions.
All photographs © steve jansen
‘tender extinction’ is available to purchase via Steve’s bandcamp page https://stevejansen.bandcamp.com/album/tender-extinction