Jarboe seems to have picked up where Nico left off. Both singers and key players made their fame with influential bands before moving on to successful solo careers.
Nico was known primarily for her work with the Velvet Underground, while Jarboe is recognized as being a core member of Swans. Since departing from the band, Jarboe has gone on to collaborate with many artists and release solo album after sol album, including 2018’s Cut of the Warrior, which was fantastic.
Jarboe returns yet again with Illusory, an album that is both ethereal and beautiful. The title track opens with an organ sound, piano, and breathy vocals with solemn lyrics questioning time’s capacity to heal. It is a thinly veiled breakup song about illusions of self-perception, and it is beautiful. Vocals layer and dance around each other.
Glitch vocal and synth loops settle into a rhythm that drums adopt. Choral vocals and heavy drones make up “Cathedral.” Not only is the first half of this record enjoyable, it flies by. Vocals and keys make up the majority of the sounds, which may be the album’s main flaw. It could be more dynamic, with other instrumentation spicing up the mix. But, it feels like a true Jarboe solo album where she performs the vast majority of it. The synths in “Flight” are very pretty.
By “Into the Arms of Sleep,” the album begins to feel a bit one-note, but it happens to be on a note that I particularly enjoy. Only the first and last tracks have lyrics; the others are more focused on the angelic vocals and loops over keys and synths.
Thankfully, the penultimate track “Nourish” provides the alternate instrumentation the listener is craving at this point. It is the song that is most like Swans. Strings loop over complex poly rhythms. They are not always in time by any means, but that is the joy of this part. Deep listening rewards those who can contemplate the intricacies.
Finally, the ballad “Man of Hate” closes the album to applause at the end, leaving the listener to ponder what Jarboe is trying to say. While Illusory is a beautiful album, it sometimes lacks a message other than that things are not what they seem. It is no Cut of the Warrior, but another solid chapter in Jarboe’s discography. It is a solid listen for anyone interested in experimental music, drone, and avant-garde composition.