Jarboe is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who made her name most infamously in the experimental, drone, art-rock, and no wave outfit Swans. With the band since its inception in 1985, Jarboe was a part of each great Swans release until the band took a hiatus in 1997.
Although she was absent from the band when they reunited in 2010, Jarboe has continued to collaborate with musicians and make angelic, gothic, and eerily beautiful music, using her voice and instrumentals across many different styles. In addition to her collaborations with experimental metal band Neurosis and others, Jarboe has made 12 studio albums since 1991. The Cut of the Warrior is her newest full length release, out December 14 on Translation Records.
The record begins with looped shakers, which sound kind of like the nuanced, imperfect rhythms of nature. Organ sounds from synthesizers sustain, and Jarboe begins singing over them. “The poor, wayfaring stranger,” she begins, “traveled through the world of woe.” Lower organs interrupt the drone of the lighter ones, creating a new three-one rhythm that is predictable yet disorienting.
Eerie, clinking pianos begin the next track. The melody is beautiful, but the clank of the keys is jarring. They are warmed slightly by an accenting bass line that appears to be played on a synthesizer. These instruments provide the rhythm while Jarboe’s voice glides across them, creating new beats and subtleties in the melody. Shimmering keys emerge in the background, mirroring the melodies in the vocals until suddenly some creepy, new vocals interrupt the composition. They sound like voices from a horror movie, and the banging drum only adds to the suspense. There are no discernible lyrics, but according to the lyrics sheet, she is saying “…of terrifying countenance we are…children…we are…I…idol.”
A pulsating beat and ominous vocal loops are the setup for the next piece of spoken word. The instrumentation is visceral, intense, yet beautiful behind Jarboe’s delivery. Keys, strings, and what sound like wind instruments are a medieval melody from another time, while the vocal reading ends with “Come for the feast” before a bell tolls.
Percussion is extended into the next track, in which the carnival sounds and reverberated scream are primal. Cultic chants and bass drum hits harken to lost worlds. It all comes to a screeching halt; then Jarboe says through delay, “Karuna, if you call her, she will come.”
The last three tracks of the record are different mixes, reincarnations of some of the pieces you have just heard. Gorgeous synths cover the loops and keys which are manipulated into wholly new, electronic soundscapes. Heavy, droning guitars are added.
New beats and moods are established, but the remixes hold onto the original sounds. Low-end pulses are created from quieter tracks. The reprise of GodGoddess is most like the original, the last track becoming a resurrection of a composition that occurred halfway through the album, taken from you quickly, and leaving like it was never there.