Whelmed is available at:
Los Angeles, U.S.A.; Brighton, U.K.
27th April, 2017
I might be doing this backwards…
but this is my second time approaching January. I interviewed her last week promoting her album, Whelmed, and what its inspirations are. Now, I am charged with reviewing its title track that is a few months old now – the way of things with reviews is you can get to things a little late. I have had this on the diary for a while because other stuff has come before it. Whilst I am a bit late to the party, it gives me a chance to address a topic that few reviewers get a chance to: retrospective appeal and looking at music later in time. I will talk about January and her stunning track but, before I do, I want to look at retrospective appeal and its importance; some of the best female artists and why their influence and talent is so important; moving from L.A. and the appeal of Brighton; strings and bringing compositional elements together; competitiveness in the industry and artists trying to make a name for themselves – looking at how to build social media numbers and the importance of exploiting the venues of this country. I shall start by having a look at that first point and looking at music further down the tracks. I feel one of the biggest issues journalists have is the fact they have to encapsulate and define a song/album/E.P. when it is released. Often, they have to distil their thoughts to a few paragraphs and react to the music in the here and now. This gives us an unclouded view but, I wonder, does it truly represent music and its true nuance? Some tracks do not have that depth – that compels revisiting further along – but I am finding myself questioning assumptions and views. A lot of the tracks I review I like at first but, some, tend to lose a bit of their appeal a few weeks/months away.
The reverse can be true: a little underwhelmed by some music; only to find it grows and gains new relevance very soon. You do not really get a chance to revise reviews and attack it again. I have been reading reviews of current albums and wonder, in a couple of months, will those journalists still hold the same views about that work? It is interesting looking at January in this context and a song like Whelmed. If I were coming to in a few months ago, when it was released, I would have had my views and a particular standpoint. I feel, coming back to it weeks/months later, everything would have changed. What does one do when their initial assumptions prove to be false?! It is an interesting point but I guess that is the limitation of journalism. We must capture and define work when it arrives and do our best to predict its long-term effects. It is intriguing waxing on the point but I think there should be a mechanism in place to allow writers to go back and reassess certain albums. Artists like January will get a slew of sites tackling her music when it arrives but, once that is done, they will not remain with it and continue to dig into the song. It will be left there so how hard is it to keep promoting the music when journalists have moved onto the next thing? It would be good to have journalists that can come to songs a little while after they have arrived – reviews do not need to be conducted as soon as a track is out. For me, I get the opportunity to approach a song that I have been listening to a while. I am coming in with fresh ears and get to combine all my experiences of the song – from that initial assumption to the emotions and possibilities captured in the months following that. It is fascinating to me because I feel there are albums in the mainstream that get one type of response and then, you think, journalists are going to change their response the more they listen to that work. Do we expend adequate time and attention when it comes to reviewing work? There is that need to get a review out and have something produced quite quickly – that means you are not giving the music proper attention and regard.
When it comes to January’s latest video; I wanted to wait a little bit and allow its textures and essence to do its work. I shall come back to that but, until then, wanted to look at American artists and living a city like Los Angeles. For January; she is recording in her Brighton studio and living down here now. It is always baffling (to some) that anyone would leave L.A. and somewhere that seems quite ideal. It is like London a lot: many assume it will be perfect but there are problems and reasons why some favour other areas. It is easy to see the impressions and fingerprints from L.A. in January’s music. She has absorbed from the local scene and artists around her; taken from the landscape and employed strands from her new home. I am really interested in the Los Angeles music scene and why it is so compelling. That seems like tautology but it is very hard to capture everything going on there. It seems like a perfect place for an artist to create music of the highest order. In sheer terms of the geography and ecosystems there; there are no other places quite like it. You have the beauty and rolling hills; the beaches and tanned bodies – the bustle of the city and a sense of cosmopolitanism. Away from that, there are charming bars and cafes; a blend of nationalities and cultures in L.A. – go further into the state and one will find hidden wonders and some incredible places. All of this cannot help arrest and infuse curious creative minds. For January, one suspects it is a combination of her home and influences that go into her music. I shall not go into the artists currently rocking L.A., as she does not live there anymore, but one can do their own research. I feel America gets more attention because of its politics and situation – as opposed its music and fantastic sounds. January has learnt a lot from her early years but, even though she is here, it makes me wonder how much of the sun, situation and heritage she brings to her music. I listen to her songs and I get transported to L.A. I have never been there but one can definitely hear embers of the sea and sand; something about the hidden retreats and the complexity of the humans who inhabit the city. One gets a real clash of elements and sounds that can either represent the blend of languages/peoples in L.A. – maybe it is something else at work. In any case; I love the music she provides and know she still carries L.A. in her heart.
IMAGE CREDIT: Adeline Sumney
I will talk, actually, about YouTube and videos in a bit but, before coming to that, a little bit about Brighton. There is so much to address with January but, given the fact I know she is recording in Brighton right now, a chance to talk about the city. Having visited there a couple of times recently, I can attest as to how vibrant and varied it is. January might refute my claim but – even though I have not been to L.A. – there is, perhaps, comparisons to her home? Maybe the people of Los Angeles are not as laid-back as in Brighton but you get a clash of the modern/quirky and beautiful. On the one hand, you can explore The Lanes and the unique shops and spaces one can explore. I get lost in those shops and all the colours, scents (many of which can be quite ‘vivid’) and possibilities. There is the High Street and the more mainstream shops sitting alongside the charming businesses one finds down The Lanes. These alone must provide writers with enough to put into their music. Even if they do not directly address them: the sheer influence and impact goes into the imagination and sits into the consciousness. Away from the streets and shops; one can go down to the beach – it is very close by. If one goes there; you can get a traditional sense of the British seaside and what it is all about. There are shops that sell rock – all claiming to be Brighton’s best – and there is the pier. Walk on the pier and you encounter an arcade and stalls; little shops and people watching the sea as it crashes against the shore. The beach itself is pebbled but, when hot, is crammed with life and adventure. It is the more relaxed and scenic part of Brighton. Transition into the night and the city explodes with colour and sexuality. There is a huge L.G.B.T.Q. scene there and, when it gets dark, one sees a different side to the city. The nightlife is incredible there and it is a thriving and eye-opening experience. January has all of this around her so, one wonders, how much of the new music is going to be compelled by her current home. Maybe L.A. goes into her album and earliest work but, knowing there is new material taking shape, will that resonate to the beat of Brighton? It is interesting to speculate – and I look forward to receiving that music and getting to grips with it.
Before I come to my pre-approved themes; I have been watching January’s video for Whelmed and the kind of reaction it is getting. I am baffled why certain artists/songs get the attention they do. Whelmed is a gorgeous video that took a lot of effort and planning but, so far, has only accrued meagre views on YouTube. There are few views and comments – a few people have given it a thumbs-down. It seems people are not really listening and watching: simply trying to discourage an artist and ignoring the true depth of a work. I look at a video like Whelmed and wonder why it does not have more views and love than it does. Perhaps there are so many artists out there that mean it is impossible to wade through and decipher the best. I do not really buy that because, if one has a P.R. company behind them (like January does), there should be more done to ensure their videos get necessary attention. YouTube is a platform that allows music videos to get to millions around the world. The biggest Pop stars often rack up eye-watering views and, sometimes, it can be tens-of-millions. I do wonder whether these views are coming from teen audiences and whether these numbers reflect quality – it seems a lot of it is down to popularity, credibility and celebrity. That is all fine but it rather muddies the waters. Take a new artist like January and she relies, to an extent, on sites like this get her music promoted. Seeing Whelmed collect a small numbers of views – and no feedback – makes me question the validity and role of YouTube. Do we take the time to thank an artist and give them some kind words?! There is such disposability to music and we get into a habit of watching videos and leaving it there. In the same way reviewers might be wise to re-explore music – in order to understand its true hidden truths and full effect – maybe we should take more care when encountering a music video. It is disheartening seeing an artist put so much work into a video – only to see it not get the numbers it fully warrants.
PHOTO CREDIT: Hugh Fox
It is merely a consideration but, why would an artist like Lorde get so many views and someone like January a comparative paucity? The quality between the artists does not reflect the gulf of numbers. I mean, Lorde has celebrity and that established career but it proves a lot of the video views comes from hype, celebrity and popularity. January deserves the same sort of epic viewing figures as Lorde (and her peers) and I feel something needs to be done. Of course, January is someone who gets her videos and music promoted by various sites and has a solid fanbase. Having a P.R./management company behind her; there are other hands ensuring the music gets out there and covered. One can argue how important and monetising things like YouTube is when it comes to an artist’s career and prosperity. I think the music itself is the most important thing and, so long as it is good as it can be, that is the thing. Artists do rely on streaming services and sites like YouTube to get their music to more people. It is not an easy solution but it irks me seeing fantastic artists giving such modest attention. January is a compelling and entrancing act that has her own sound and deserves a lot of love. Maybe it is the case the waters are quite busy and it might take longer for her true talent to be recognised. Saying that; she has fans here and in the U.S. so there is a lot of love out there for her. The female singer-songwriter sector is hotting up and busier than it has ever been. Even if an artist is original; their sound can often be similar to someone else’s. In January’s case, there are a lot of artists who have the same blend of atmosphere, grace and tranquillity in the music. How easy is it bonding with all of them and discovering the nuances of each? Maybe the industry is becoming too crowded and undisciplined: it means people like January – who has an incredible talent and sound – is getting lost in the sea of like-minded artists. It may sound like a negative and foreboding forecast but I am defending her with venom. She is someone that deserves enormous acclaim and should get enormous love on social media and music-streaming sites. I will talk about her upcoming material later but, for now, I shall move on to look at artists who inspire January and the sounds she brings into the music.
Björk has, with her typical wit and unique insight, explained her forthcoming work is her “Tinder record”. One can imagine the puns journalists will employ during the reviewing stages – swiping left and right; corny, half-baked dating jokes – and the kind of aspects one can discover when the album comes out. Like Björk; January is, in her current work, exploring love and its effects. One suspects; the way Björk is talking about her album: it is an L.P. that documents her dating experience and having to move on after splitting from a long-term partner. Whether sex and sexual exploration forms a large part; there is the mystery and unpredictability of love – I am looking forward to seeing what is on the horizon. January, on Whelmed (album and song), looks at love and how it is complex. When interviewing her, January revealed how romantic love is never easy and all of her music, to some degree, is about relationships and being immersed in someone. That is why her album’s title track is so meaningful. It is about being wrapped inside a person and fully engrossed in a relationship. One can draw comparisons to Björk and her contemporary mindset. Maybe the Icelandic legend is going to take a more casual and freewheelin’ approach to sex but one suspects there are going to be paens about deep love and affection. I wanted to talk about Björk because, for artists like January, they must be indispensable and mind-blowing. She is a huge influence for me but, for a musician, that effect cannot be underestimated. Look back at her career and the way she fuses strings and orchestrations with nervy and anxious sounds. Right from her Debut album; one gained a real emotive and physical impression. Songs would gallop, swoon and endeavour: the heroine let her voice fly and would explore new realms and worlds. As her music developed; new sounds and ideas were laced in. Björk, actually, started to invent her own instruments and, on some of her more recent efforts, she created apps. and ways of distributing her music. That is the story of a true innovator. It is not only the case she inspires musicians because of her incredible and always-shifting music: as a person; she speaks out against sexism and addresses issues that many would overlook.
PHOTO CREDIT: @mrhughfox and @helkiloves
A passionate and determined soul who uses her voice in a variety of ways. I can sense a connection between Björk and January. Whelmed is a song that contains the same sort of aspects one might discover in a Björk album like Post and Debut. Even if, in terms of vocals, there are differences; I hear compositional inspiration for sure. January knows how important Björk is to her but, when discovering the beauty and haunted nature of her latest song; I get impressions of artists like Enya. Here is another artist January name-checked in our interview and, when listening closely, you can definitely hear her impact. The Irish singer has, throughout her career, produced some of the most beautiful and sweeping sounds one could imagine. I am a fan of her classic moments and can lose myself in her music. That is true when one hears January. She mixes in the boldness and string articulation/mixes of Björk but has the vocals and passion of Enya. There is, in so much as she is inspired by the likes of Chopin, a great knowledge of Classical music. January grew up listening to Classical and Electronic music so it is no surprise finding both these genres come into her work. I am a champion of artists using strings and unexpected tones in their music. For one, it fuses the synthetic and natural into one. For another, there is that balance of symphonic and edgy. If you can create darker sounds from the electronic elements and bring in the warmer and more enriching strings – that is a heady blend that is hard to turn down. This is what one experiences with January’s music and one has to thank her idols for that gold dust. I will come back to this point later but, given the fact Björk has teased new music, I am confident we will see a lot of new artists come into music that name her as an influence. Over two-decades since her debut; she is someone who no equals and provides incredible, strange music. It is beautiful and worldly; it has all manner of emotions and stories running through it – nobody can deny what an impact she has had on modern music.
PHOTO CREDIT: @mrhughfox and @helkiloves
I am keen to move on to January’s Whelmed but, before then, a slight return to social media and venues in the country. I have argued why someone like January has not gained more social media fans than she has. There is a great fanbase behind her – and many publications have featured her work – but, I feel, following and fandom should directly correlate with quality. That may be terrible naïve but, I think, artists that accrue the biggest streaming figures/YouTube views are the ones that are not, necessarily, as strong as the new artists coming through. Whether there is an easy way of ratifying these concerns and constructively remedying the imbalance has yet to be seen. There are piecemeal changes but I worry how detrimental and disenchanting it can be, for any artist, having to work tirelessly for a modicum of attention. Maybe that is the harsh nature of music but, for January, I have every hope that she will be a big proposition in years to come. The music she is producing at the moment is exceptional and makes me wonder how far she can take it. I feel there are venues and fans out there that would welcome January in and provide her a lot of love. Not only does she have the splendour and diversity of Brighton where she records: there is a cavalcade of various-sized venues that would be perfect for housing her music. Green Door Store is a wonderful venue that, normally, puts on heavier acts – Rock, Indie; Hardcore etc. – but puts up a whole range of different sounds. I would think someone like January could get a gig or two there and find some new support. I have often walked past The Greys – down Southover Street – and from its ironic turquoise outer walls; it is a pub that showcases wonderful live music for the people of Brighton. That is another cool and warm part of the city I would like to see January perform in. Latest Music Bar, down in the recesses of Manchester Street, is a fantastic space.
PHOTO CREDIT: Hugh Fox
Throw into the mix Prince Albert, The Haunt and Komedia and, I feel, January could curate a mini-tour of Brighton. There is a world in London she could succeed in: take that further through the U.K. and so many venues I would love to see January take charge of. Maybe this will be a reality when she puts new music out but, given the strengths on Whelmed, I know that record will find passionate and ardent support in various parts of the country – Brighton is the perfect place to start that campaign. I shall move onto Whelmed next but, a few moments before getting there, offer some encouragement to January. She does not need my patronage but there is so much about her that I fall for. Not only is she incredible striking, intriguing and down-to-earth but her music and attitude to her craft are seriously impressive. Her songwriting is among the strongest I have heard in a long time and, having worked with British D.J.s and gained huge experience in this country; she has indulged her love of Electronic music and worked with fantastic Classical talent. I will allude to that in the context of Whelmed but here is a young artist who has a width and determination that will see her succeed and endure. I know the future is hard to predict but, knowing where January has come from, I know where she is going. I have completely involved myself in songs like Whelmed and am struck by how personal and meaningful it is. Not only a song that means a lot to its writer: its words and meanings can be extrapolated by every listener out there. It has such heart and courage but a universal beauty that gets into the heart.
PHOTO CREDIT: @helkiloves
There are whispers, suggestions and the feint air in the opening seconds of Whelmed. It brings in mere tinkles and shimmering strings; there is rustle of the breeze and the openness of nature. In many ways, it has that blend of Classical composition and a certain Icelandic superstar. One immerses themselves in the view and walks alongside January. It is passionate and curious; compelling and soft – you cannot really articulate (clearly) how meaningful and unexpected it is. Rather than rush in with heavy strings or vocals: January gives the song a chance to wake up and percolate. The arms stretch into the morning and the sun rises from over the hills. When she comes to the microphone; one gets the impression here is a young woman who might be wrestling with troubles. She does not want to go somewhere – nothing good awaits – but, knowing the song deals with new possibility/love, it seems like a transition piece. Maybe she is shedding off her worn skin and keen to embrace a new way of life. There are all shades of blue in her mind. Her heart is not beating the way it should and it seems as though things are getting rather intense. The desire to forget about a bad experience and find some escape comes through. January’s voice is tender and breezy. It has emotion and determination but is kept restrained and delicate. There is a certain tease and allure to the performance that means you are sucked into the speaker and, as such, go deeper into the song. I was hooked by the sound and affect the voice had on me. There are a lot of singer-songwriters like January who have that aesthetic and sound – in a busy market; that is always going to be way. I know a lot of female artists who are compelled by the likes of Tori Amos and Björk – and have a wistfulness and attachment to the environment that feeds into their music. Looking at Whelmed’s video and one sees the heroine by a waterfall and enraptured by her mood and surroundings. This strikes familiar visions in me – and have seen a few videos like this – but there is something unique about January. She does not follow others and, when it comes to her lyrics, this is very much taken from her own life.
The voice hovers, rises and strikes as the heroine reveals how she will be on her own. She is on her way and leaving behind that blue and heartache. Maybe there is a man in mind and finding hope – after a period of instability and loss. The Copenhagen Cello Quartet provides strings for the song and brings something majestic and soothing to the song. It is easy to fall for January’s voice as it has a blend of maternal instinct and otherworldly charm. It is light and sweet but one discovers a definite physicality and sexiness to it. That combination of infantile and womanly is hard to conquer but it comes naturally to January. As the song continues, it is easy to assume we find endless heartbreak and hopelessness at work. The heroine is overcoming bad days but, it seems, there is definite hope and new adventures afoot. There is no point in feeling/being left behind, as it is said, and the heroine’s friends have been caught in the riptide before. She is not drowning in the water: it seems she is drowning in the man. It is interesting hearing her sing about regrets and that notion of movement. Maybe older love has weighed her down; that anchor has shackled her feet but now, perhaps, there is a reason to be optimistic and not be fatalistic. That sense of being near the edge – and close to drowning, perhaps – is rescued by a man. Perhaps that is an overstretch...but it seems like a new horizon is here. One gets impressions of a woman who is going through a new process and experiencing a freedom. That liberation and new lease are evident as January’s voice weaves and waves in the breeze. The song never gallops out the gates: it is serene and light throughout. Inside this calm is a definite sense of expression and passion. Few will listen to the song and not feel like they can relate. Many of us have been through similar experiences and, whether romantic bonds or personal fights, we have all encountered change and hope.
PHOTO CREDIT: @helkiloves
I know how personal this song is to January and it is one she holds very dear. Maybe, before, there was a period of isolation and hurt. Relationships are hard and it might have been the case she was with the wrong person. Now, there looks like there is sunshine and a relief ahead. Whether it is a new man or a realisation that has compelled this song – moving on from the bad days and getting away from the shipwreck. As the song progresses, my mind changes and I wonder whether there is that overriding hope and happiness. We see the heroine walk into the water in the video and it seems there is more at work than meets the mind. I would like to think new love has given her a reason to be uplifted but it seems the demons of the past continue to do their work. I come away from the song and need to go back because it has complexities and obliqueness. Electronic elements come into the song and bond nicely with the strings. It is a combination that gives the song new life and meaning; it has dark and light working alongside one another and provokes all sort of memories, possibilities and images. Whelmed is an addictive song who chorus and vocals will stick in the mind. The lyrics will compel possibilities and various interpretations. I know January is inspired by love and takes from relationships when writing. There are those bad times expressed in the song but, in my opinion, something pure and new – a fresh relationship that casts away the shadows of the past.
I have been involving myself with January and everything about her. She is an artist for whom I hold reservoirs of affection. Her music needs to get to as many people as possible and I feel, genuinely, she has enormous potential. There are no confirmed dates for her at the moment but that will all change. She has mentioned how she is returning to writing after a year-long hiatus. I guess, without snooping in her business, she was dealing with personal demands and the way life gets in the way. Her own lexicon and situation is complex; but I guess there are good reasons why there has been this gap. In any sense, she needed to step away for a bit and take some downtime after recording an album. Love and relationships form a big part of her music: maybe the downsides of a bad love affected her work-rate and mindset. Perhaps, in all honesty, she has been working with other musicians and looking for fresh inspiration before going back into the studio. That is where she is now so, in the coming year, it will be interesting seeing what the result of all this is. January explained, in my interview, how she has been working with new artists and talent. This has kept her mind sharp and inspired; compelled her to make new material happen and dream big. One suspects the arrival of new Björk material will inspire January and compel her in some way. Not that she is the only inspiration at all. There are Classical masters and modern-day artists that drive her. As she said, when I interviewed her, it is important to take from the giants and learn – one must provide their own narrative and not take too heavily from the narrative of others. This comes through crystal-clear in January’s own music. I know Whelmed is a few months old but, returning to my earlier points, that is something that does it a favour. What I mean is it is a song that has complexities and richness. It unfurls all its colours and secrets the more you listen to it.
I opened by talking about retrospective reviews and whether we should invest time in an album/artist after they have released. We review material as soon as it comes out and only have a small window to define that work. One does not give it times and allows the songs to fully unwind. That is the drawback of journalism but I wonder whether artists are being given a fair crack. Artists like January have that rush and energy to get the music out there and get reviewed. When albums/songs come out; it gets to magazines and sites. They will take it and share a few words about it. There is such a snow-storm of attention and focus in a relatively brief space of time. Once all that attention has fallen away; that is it and the artist must take it upon themselves to keep the momentum going. It is worrying music relies wholly on that instantaneousness and initial burst. I know journalists cannot re-review work and hold onto its for months on end. Are we, as consumers, expending appropriate energy and regard when it comes to new music? I often listen to new artists but will come back to them weeks after first hearing them. Many are buying/streaming songs and they will move on to the next thing sooner or later. There is that zeal to discover what is brand-new and of-the-moment. It means there is a big reserve of music that has that early affection – only to be overlooked and put into the cupboard very soon. Like a child getting excited by a present at Christmas: playing with it for a few days and then shoving it under the bed. January is focused on new material but I feel her current music should remain in the memory and get more attention. I keep repeating that point but it is one I will not let go. One has to PROPERLY listen to the music and keep it safe. It is no good hearing a new artist, listening to their music, and then discarding it. I have been guilty of doing this but I am feeling guilty about. My point is we should all be more vigilant, careful and considerate when approaching a new artist.
PHOTO CREDIT: Hugh Fox
I shall end this piece now – as I have a lot to crack on with today – but I wanted to bring all my early points together very quickly. January is recording in Brighton now but has come from L.A. I can hear strands of Los Angeles music in her own work – it is inevitable she would take a lot from where she came from. In hearing January’s music; one can detect landscape and people; her idols and upbringing. There is the diverse landscape of L.A. and all its beauty. The scenic nature and views; the polemics and clashes of the city and serene. Now recording in Brighton; she has the wonderful people and that appealing blend of shops and the beach. It is a relaxing part of the country but does have a very vivacious night-time scene. It is a city that has the same contrasts as L.A. but not as crowded and large. I guess that is important when she records and conspires – not feeling so cramped and hustled. I mentioned how January has been inspired by Classical music and Electronic artists. There is a real genre-mix in her music: one gets all sorts of tastes and scents when hearing a song like Whelmed. Few possess the same sort of passion, personality and panache as January. She is a singular being who involves herself with music and all its possibilities. I shall end this now but urge people, as I often do, to listen to January’s music and a rare artist. So evocative and entrancing is the music: it is hard to shake it off and forget about it. I am pumped to discover what the future holds for January but, right now, she is creating music that gets into the heart and…
BRINGS you into a wonderful and unforgettable place.