Steve Jansen, the co-founder of new wave legends Japan and bona fide collaboration multi-hyphenate, is reissuing his first two solo studio albums: Slope and Tender Extinction.
But how to accurately parse Steve Jansen’s path through music? It’s a journey that’s taken him from 80s royalty as what The Guardian calls “a key component” of one of the UK’s premier new wave acts, releasing classic records like Tin Drum and Quiet Life, to a renowned collaborator, working with artists as diverse as Ryuchi Sakamoto, Anja Garbarek, Annie Lennox, and, most recently, Maiya Hershey. His is a career of ever-changing styles and genres, from blissed-out electronica made with YMO’s Yukihiro Takahashi, to his work with jazz-rock group Nine Horses, to the heavy atmospheres of his transcendent Exit North project, and far, far, beyond.
Based on his consistently excellent creative output, it’s not surprising that he’s also had time to fit in a clutch of excellent solo albums. Although on first listens the music on Slope and Tender Extinction can seem austere and chilly, it certainly bears further listening. Songs that might seem impenetrable can shyly give up their secrets - a moment of tenderness, say, or soaring strings, or a wistful chord change. Slope, his debut, was described by The Observer upon its release in 2007 as “unclassifiable”, a description that goes some way to detailing the album’s crystalline synthetic peaks, dusty analogue depths, and wide experimental sweep. To hear the icy IDM of ‘Grip’ rubbing up against the drone-led modern classical in ‘Sow The Salt’, and the strange sound experiments in ‘Gap of Cloud’ juxtaposed with the fractured emotion of ‘Playground Martyrs’ is to hear an artist capable of ploughing his own unique furrow through music.
Although nine years and another glut of projects (an ambient album called A Secret Life made with John Foxx and Steve D'Agostino, an array of instrumental pieces, Jansen and Japan bandmate Richard Barbieri’s fifth album, Lumen, and the list really does go on and on) came between Slope and second album, Tender Extinction, the same restive spirit remained that first prompted Jansen to go it alone. Tender Extinction is a more meditative affair than its predecessor, one where comet tails of synthesiser stretch across a song and fathomless sonic depths simmer and roll like an ocean. James Ginzburg’s brand new remaster will render the hiemal beauty and sumptuous arrangements of tracks such as ‘And Birds Sing All Night’, ‘Captured’, and ‘Her Distance’ even more perfectly than before.
But why these albums and why now? Both are special pieces of work, and place the talents of an artist that often stays in the shadows front and centre. Jansen is someone whose every action is in service of The Project, shapeshifting and adapting in relation to how he can improve the music. He’s said in that past that “I remove myself from any references to other people or popular culture. I explore sound and composition without any preconceptions about the finished piece or its place in the world.” Though this is a humble approach that clearly pays dividends (as evinced by his mixing, session, and collaborative work) Slope and Tender Extinction allow for the full range of his influences, experimentation, and ideas to come to the fore. These reissues are timely and necessary, bringing particularly gorgeous high points of Steve Jansen’s sparkling oeuvre into new light.