Barnyard Records, 2011


REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer


Thomas isn’t one to shy away from adventure when it comes to his music. He has adopted styles like jazz, R&B, funk, New Wave, and electropop across his releases in some most interesting and creative ways. Heck, he has even wholeheartedly embraced influences of gospel music on a couple of his works – Love Thy Will Be Done and Such Is Your Triumph. Although this Toronto-based artist has done something new and different with every release, nothing has been quite as daring and strange as Janela. This album ranks among the likes of Talk Talk’s Spirit Of Eden and Blur’s 13 in terms of its ambitiousness and fearlessness in pushing the boundaries of creativity.

Janela is only five songs, but it is 31 minutes long and sounds like one whole piece of music. The opening cut, the 10-minute long “Either Side Of The Symbol,” is the album’s centerpiece and Thomas’ most elaborate song ever. It is almost as if this number is divided into several different acts. It starts off with Thomas singing in a Josh Groban-esque operatic style, but his vocals are all muffled to the point of near silence. 35 seconds into the song, warm flowy music falls upon his vocals like sunshine, emancipating them as they come to the fore, thus heralding the long journey that the song will take, which will will involve many twists and turns. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

By the time “Either Side Of The Symbol” ends, it is like you’ve gone through a grand musical voyage consisting of three or four different songs. Ambient electronica, chamber pop, and a wise use of silence tie together the different facets of this number, which is epic by any measure.

The following two cuts – “Janela” and “(Without So Much As A) Thank You,” are more straightforward in comparison, but again brilliantly juggle elements of electronica, soul, and jazz, cloaking the complexity of the music in a veil of sparseness and smoothness on the surface.

The last two tracks – “Helsabonkers” and “What A Friend We Have In Daisy” – which together total a little over 10 minutes, are almost like two “acts” of the same song. “Helsabonkers,” which is probably Thomas’ wackiest song, is certainly an outlier on this record. Originally a track by the avant-garde band Xiu Xiu, the actual version (called “Helsabot”) couldn’t get more stripped down. It consists of just an acoustic guitar and some reticent singing. Thomas’ version is the entire opposite; in fact, it is a completely different song altogether. It is a chaotic mishmash of jazz and electronica, dominated by goofy synthesizers and crazy saxophone. “Helsabonkers” either seems like a song on an acid trip or from a bizarre theatre musical. However, Thomas manages to keep the pandemonium classy and under control, making a pretty great song out of it.

“What A Friend We Have In Daisy” fades in as “Helsabonkers” fades out, and it is a completely contrasting number. With earnest back-and-forth singing between Thomas and co-vocalist Felicity Williams and a soulful mix of twangy lap steel guitars and ambient synthesizers, this track ends the party started by “Helsabonkers” – and the album itself – in a soothing, almost lullaby-like fashion.

With all of its nuances, Janela is a pretty complex record. Thomas has certainly pushed himself in every way on this one: as a composer, producer, singer, and songwriter. He could have easily lost control and crashed spectacularly, but he does not. Instead, more than any of his other work, this release proves that he is one hell of a serious artist.

Rating: A-

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