At CeltCast HQ we have two guilty pleasures. One of them of course is Euzen, the other one is an equally talented performer: Jyoti Verhoeff. Ever since her debut EP Phoenix (2012), her unique style of singer-songwriter lyrics on a piano-laden mix of dream folk, avant-garde/artpop, and chamber music-ish dreamscapes has filled our office on a regular basis. Although it’s not really folk music if we’re being honest, Jyoti creates a musical world that fits so snugly with the spiritual, meditative, nature-loving and classical (hello Cesair ) side of pagan folk, that we gladly turn a blind eye and review her newest CD regardless. Speaking for myself I’m really happy we made that decision. This is a stunning album and with station favorites like Meidi Goh ( AmmA, Imbue, Meidi Goh ), Philip Xander Steenbergen ( Withershins, Saffron Sun, former Omnia), and Kalin Yordanov (Irfan) among the guest musicians, it would have been a shame to miss out on this wonderful piece of art. Because that is what you need to call this CD: A beautiful piece of art!
Jyoti Verhoeff made her debut as a piano-playing singer/songwriter with the EP Phoenix in 2012. She recorded five songs with cello player Maya Fridman, who we know from many guest appearances with Cesair and Sowulo. From this first EP, Jyoti defined her musical style. An exquisite mix of intricate piano chords and vocals, weaving from soundscapes, through avant-garde dream pop, contemporary chamber music into soft and poetic dream folk making me think of the Dutch band Rosemary & Garlic. Also clear from that first EP was Jyoti’s connection with the natural world, as if Mother Earth herself whispered her favorite melodies into Jyoti’s ears.
Her first full album Riven: Dark Moon Full Moon (2014) is an absolute masterpiece that brought together three giants of contemporary artpop: Jyoti and Maya Fridman of course, and….third but definitely not least… Fieke van der Hurk. The 4-part music piece Dark Moon ending this CD is absolutely beautiful. It combines the power of artpop, the grandeur of epic folk (Cesair), with elements of Nordic folk, classical music, and ambient music.
On “Touches” – I speak with my mouth shut (2018) the collaboration with Fieke continued. Jyoti even deepened her musical connection with Mother Earth on this CD, contrasting it with the ever-stronger automated and industrialized human civilization. A message that was so powerful it didn’t need words anymore. The music itself became the voice telling the message Jyoti wanted to express. A message filled with questions. Is this the way we need to go? Is this the right future for us to go to? For the world to end in?

Now we have The Sky of You. Soundwise it sits snugly between the albums Riven and Touches. In theme, it is a logical follow-up on the latter CD. Where Jyoti was raising questions on “Touches” – I speak with my mouth shut; where she was confronting us with the contrasts between our inner emotional being and the material outer shell we created to protect that, The Sky of You is created to be a safe haven. A shelter for those who don’t belong in this ever-rushing, digitalized, dare I say clinical computer world. That musical shelter instantly emerges when you turn on the opening song Vision. Soft clouds of meditative cello, electronic keyboard notes, and grand tape loop effects are woven together in a comforting ambient folk setting. Jyoti’s piano strokes bring structure within those misty clouds. Intricate, delicate, soothing. Her vocals bringing an eerie beauty to it all. A bass clarinet cuts through it all like a shadow would claw through the mist. It all sounds spiritual, ghostly, warm, comforting, and slightly eerie at the same time. But not scary, no-no. It is beautifully soothing in a mysterious way. As the song progresses it builds up in strength. First, it is done with an improvised percussion segment, and then by masterfully arranging it like the soundtrack of an epic fantasy movie would. almost up to a full symphony. Only to fall back to a single piano note. A delicate melody line born from silence. every note has a sense of silence hidden in itself, even while it is played. All of this makes Vision an intriguing start to this CD.

As Daylight Wanes begins as another soundscape. Actually, on every single song, Jyoti creates that mystique ambient folk ‘cloud’. She uses it to set the stage. They are portals leading us towards the deepest, most stunning corners of her creative mind. Just as stars are born within the swirling and turning of a nebula, Jyoti’s songs are born within that ambient mist. Shards of piano cut through the mist and mark out the tone the music piece will have.
As I said As Daylight Wanes starts small, as an ambient folk cloud, but slowly builds up. Electronic keyboard sounds coming in halfway through the song give me fond memories of the beauty I found on Touches. It is funny how listening to this new album also makes me understand the previous albums better. It seems that certain elements hidden inside these previous songs, I could only open with keys Jyoti is giving me on this new album.

The third song Come is one of my favorites. It has this lovely ambient, dream folk feel again with beautiful shards of piano, cello, clarinet, and tape loop effects cutting through this nebula of sound Can you envision yourself walking through a forest in the early morning on a lovely but cold October day, with the sky above a deep blue still studded with stars, and the morning haze slowly growing into a fog, gently encasing all the shapes and softening them to beautiful abstract figures? Can you imagine, hidden in that misty haze, that you find the golden glow of autumn water flowing by; the green shadow of mosses on ancient trees; the wet pearls of the morning fog caught in the spiderweb’s threats; the golden voice of the robin’s song. Just before you spot him diving away from the lowest branch? Thát is what Come sounds like. A song blessed by Mother Earth herself. At this point, I should mention Erwin Tuijl, whose tape loops and effects have an immensely important part in creating that overall sound.
He does that again on the fourth song, The Sky of You. Working in close harmony with cello player The Wong Janice to create those stunning soundscapes over and over again. This is one of the few songs where Jyoti actually sings words and there is a sense of lyrics. But even here it isn’t about words. Her voice is just another instrument adding even more emotion to the overall artpop sound. I LOVE this song. Readers who love the latest albums of Kate Bush will, just like me, get goosebumps when they hear The Sky of You, the title song of this album. It is a stunning piece of music. Truly stunning!

If you read the biography of The Wong Janice you’ll see that she describes herself as a deep ambient meditative cello player. And that describes her role in the songs Solace and Build Me A Sea exactly. It perfectly describes the songs themselves as well. Especially the latter one, Build Me A Sea, is a gem. It starts out as a dreamscape with an ever-so-slight African feel. (But that could be a personal thing. It is because the sound of Jyoti’s voice reminds me very much of Peter Gabriel‘s song Across The River, from his Secret World Live CD, which contains a beautiful African violin solo.) After that, Build Me A Sea hovers between beautiful Asian meditative music, shards of Kate Bush, and that haunting violin sound of Peter Gabriel’s Across The River, but then created by Erwin’s loops and Jyoti’s voice. My personal favorite song of the whole album.

The last song I’m going to mention is Ogulena. It brings together two other giants of contemporary folk music, Jyoti and Kalin Yordanov. It is stunning how these two voices, these two styles merge together into something even more magical. Alex Sealgare, I think we need to indulge our guilty pleasure and bring those two giants together in concert one day. Jyoti Verhoeff and Irfan together on the stage of the P60. Now THAT, dear readers, would be a night to remember. Until that moment I’ll just cherish this CD. Thank you, Jyoti, this album is truly beautiful. An honor to review.


Editor: Iris
Album photography: Mirthe Beerling
album cover design: Sander van der Berg, Jyoti Verhoeff
Pictures: Mirthe Beerling (1), Jyoti Verhoeff (2)