from Metal Injection

Few artists have been as prolific as Jarboe. Through almost sixty albums, the Mississippi native has maintained an abrasive consistency in her work. Not limited by labels or definitions, Jarboe has surpassed terms such as ‘avant-garde’ and ‘experimental.’ While some artists find themselves easy to describe or pigeonhole, Jarboe continues to defy convention all the while reinventing herself in the process.

Jarboe is best known for her time as a member of Swans. She and songwriter Michael Gira’s tumultuous relationship culminated in several releases for the group. In doing so, they were able to push the limitations of what could be accomplished with abrasive musical art. The pair’s dysfunctional love life played out in their collaborative efforts and served as a part of Gira’s Drainland album. On “You See Through Me,” a recorded conversation between the pair showed a disjointed partnership unraveling in the wake of alcoholism. She would go on to collaborate with Neurosis in 2003 and even contribute a to Swans’ album Seer in 2012.

Illusory sees Jarboe merging serenity, atmosphere and demonstrating musical prowess that resides at the highest levels of conceptual and experimental art. It would be easy to simply pigeonhole this newest effort as Avant-Garde. Jarboe shows us that she’s an artist without limitations and offers something altogether different from expectation and definition.

In 2020, there appears to be no shortage of subgenres that cater to every taste in music. Experimentation is almost becoming oversaturated at this point. Now more than ever, it’s important that artists are true to themselves and the work they create. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the albums opening track, “Illusory.” The haunting score of a piano fused with Jarboe’s ethereal voice engulfs the listener in serenity and isolation. The closing lyric of “I’m here, I’m still her…” is a firm declaration from an artist who hasn’t compromised their vision to fit current trends.

“Cathedral” and “Flight”, in particular, are standout songs that demonstrate spellbinding vocal prowess. Sewing harmony and discord together, Jarboe’s vocalizations crawl down your spine and wrap around themselves around you. The vocal production on “Cathedral” mimics a dirge and Jarboe emphasizes pathos and melancholy that few are capable of. At times it’s difficult to discern what’s more captivating–the vocals or the dissonant music that accompanies them. Both flow together flawlessly as a cohesive unit. Like many conceptual works of art, Illusory needs to be experienced in its entirety to be fully appreciated.


Jarboe sustains fluid continuity on Illusory, not once coming close to repetition or tedium. Her vocalizing throughout is one of the decisive factors in shaping the unique atmosphere that emanates with each passing moment. “Man of Hate”, the albums concluding track, is driven prominently by clean vocals. As the lengthiest composition on the album, it contains lyrical content that grants insight into the tortured soul that dwells in so many artists. Passages such as “Reveal my good confession, what I hope to gain. I admit to grand obsession, breathing in my veins…” are poetic in their turmoil, All of these years later, and it appears Jarboe has a response for Gira’s Drainland ballad.

Very few artists have captured the type of emotion and cataclysmic atmosphere of Jarboe. She continues to captivate audiences all the while furthering her legacy. With the uncertainty of recent events ever-present, we have the reassurance that there will always be artists who create a separate reality that we can not only retreat into but embrace as our own.

Score: 10/10

from BILLBOARD

Buddhist Concepts Infuse Swans Alum Jarboe’s 33rd Solo Album, ‘Illusory’:
2/7/2020 by Tina Benitez-Eves

Jarboe examines time, perception and the self on the lilting title track.

Different voices, dialects and characters are simultaneously vying to get out of Jarboe’s head — and, ultimately, her mouth. She releases them in some harmonious cacophony, each giving perspective to her lyrical stories.

“I have this tendency when writing lyrics to be more than one character, more than one person,” says the former Swans vocalist-keyboardist, who was in the band from 1985 through its demise in 1997. “I do it a lot.” When she vocally takes on these personas, they syncopate through seven expansive tracks on Jarboe’s upcoming album, Illusory (April 17, Consouling Sounds).

Deliberately flowing, there’s no dissonance on Illusory; it freely transitions from one track to the next. “It’s exploring the illusion of the perception of self,” explains Jarboe. “This is why there are inarticulate vowels on the tracks that are referencing the sounds of other languages, but they’re actually vowels and sounds, and you’re supposed to experience the illusion and perception in that as well.”


Jarboe lilts through the keys of the haunting and mystical “Illusory,” a look at time and perception, what the self is and how one identifies with it. “It’s almost like a duet, but it’s just my voice,” she says of the title track. “It’s basically all the different sides of our thoughts, so the narrator is exploring what does it mean to be myself and have I healed from past trauma and pain. I say that time heals, but is time actually a real thing?”

The song moves between the third and first person perspective and ends in the lyrics “I’m still her” and a sudden, quick draw of her breath. “It’s deliberate to sound like a snap, like a zen master or a Tibetan monk master slapping the person on the side of the face to wake them up out of delusion,” says Jarboe. “It’s also a play on words — her, here — so a person can interpret it as singing to a lover or singing to a friend or singing to themselves.”

The concept of Illusory — the explanation and illusion of the self — is taken from Buddhism. It also spilled into her 2018 album The Cut of the Warrior (the set’s cover depicts a Buddhist nun with cuts on her back, a metaphor for the repeated efforts to cut the ego) and appeared as far back as her second album, 1995’s Sacrificial Cake. “Tibetan Buddhism really opened up my world,” says Jarboe, who grew up Roman Catholic. “I really saw a big reference point with the Roman Catholic mass, so the ritualistic aspect of it, the visualization of the deities — which is quite horrific and can give you serious [LSD-like] experiences just through visualization — that’s what I like about it.”

Stimulated more by its fantastic elements, Jarboe says Buddhist “studies” are a dominant part of her life: “As Westerners, I don’t believe that we can fully understand it. I read the text. I read the books. I go to the lectures. I go to the events. I do the meditations, [and] I do the visualizations. It’s like going back to college, so yes, I would say it’s a huge part of my life.”

In the track “Cathedral,” water drips off moss-covered stones inside a hallowed space surrounded by outside noises that float through the hymn of “a compilation of shadowy sounds” Jarboe gathered during her 2017 European tour with Italian psychedelic duo Father Murphy. It features noises inside an actual church, and in the distance, a tour group passes through and cell phones go off before a choir sets in. “You can definitely get the ambience there, and then there’s the singing,” she says. “If the person is listening carefully, they’re being interrupted. The idea is that in a public space you cannot do that — and then the choir comes in.”

Illusory also contains a more abstract, brooding reinterpretation of “A Man of Hate” from 1991’s Thirteen Masks. Keeping a “complicated arrangement” as only Jarboe can, Illusory’s “Man of Hate” incorporates multiple voices — all done by her shifting her tonality — that sound like different people speaking as the track closes eerily with organ and applause. “The whole point of that piece is supposed to be done in a theater, an Elizabethan kind of language,” Jarboe says. “It’s a perfect thing to do onstage.”

She notes that “Man of Hate” is not just pointing the finger at someone, for the lyrics say, “I am, I am. I’m the man of hate.” “It’s talking about the cause and effect of how a person, how a culture gets to a certain place,” she explains, linking the track to “The Rally” off her 2017 project as mind dissolves as song begins, which featured a subversive recording from Donald Trump’s 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

“I couldn’t believe the chanting of ‘Lock her up.’ It completely blew my mind,” she says of now-President Trump’s rallying call against then-rival Hillary Clinton. “I had to do something in the context of what I was reading at the time [The Love Poems of Rumi by Nader Khalili]. So the whole thing with that album was combining love from the Persian Sufi poet Rumi’s point of view with what I was seeing in my country.”


Speaking of her country, her home in Georgia is another fundamental part of Jarboe’s world. Now residing 30 minutes north of downtown Atlanta in the more rural city of Roswell, it’s a different world altogether from where she once lived with Swans frontman Michael Gira. “I never saw herds of deer in Atlanta,” says Jarboe. “There are a lot of memories associated with the house in Atlanta because I lived there with Michael. I had many memories and lots of guests there — even some famous rock stars visiting — but I think I’m happier here.”

Their relationship ended in 1997 (which she discusses in the Marco Porsia-directed 2019 Swans documentary Where Does a Body End?), and Swans broke up the same year. “I always said he ended Swans, and that’s why we broke up,” recalls Jarboe. “It wasn’t like the other way around. The tension [prior to the band’s split] was already there — the frustration of the art and of the music. All the other problems, including the alcoholism that he had, was a big part of it. I’ve never been part of that, so it was a real struggle to be around that culture.”

Jarboe suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after finding out from fans that the act had reunited in 2010, having nightmares and reliving shows and memories. “When you’re in something and you give as much as I did, you feel like it’s part of your soul,” she says. “The music and the performances were part of my soul, so the relationship or how I got along, or didn’t get along, with Michael was secondary to me.”

Still, Swans will forever be part of her. In 2012, Jarboe guested on the group’s The Seer and reunited with the act for a 2016 Atlanta show. If asked, she says she would work with Swans again, but has been saying no more than yes to collaborations to focus on Illusory. It’s Jarboe’s 33rd album in addition to nearly 30 years of collaborations, including her work with Gira on The World of Skin project (1987-90), 1993’s Beautiful People with early Swans multi-instrumentalist Lary Seven, J² with Godflesh drummer Justin Broadrick in 2008 and recent collaborative pieces with Father Murphy and cellist-composer Helen Money.

“I really love creating music,” she says. “The more complicated and bizarre and evocative, the better. So that’s what I’m going to keep focusing on. Of course, there’s a learning curve, but I think it’s what I’m here to do, so it’s what I’m going to do.”

from WIRE magazine U.K. :

Gerogia based experimental vocalist Jarboe released her latest album Illusory on 17 April via Consouling Sounds. In an interview with The Wire‘s Claire Biddles in issue 434, the artist explains how her recent travels have influenced her songwriting. Subscribers can read the article via the digital archive. In this playlist, Jarboe selects tracks from her back catalogue of various solo projects and collaborations, divulging what inspired them and how they came to fruition. 

“Man Of Hate”
 references an Elizabethan play before lords and ladies and their court. As the narrator, I describe the lavish production in humility and ask for pity. The narrator says everyone is a part of the man of hate. In the latest recorded version of the song, which is on the album entitled Illusory, everyone is beheaded.

“My Struggle” from the collaborative project Blackmouth is where my words and voice are actually a dialogue. I portray the role of both the accuser and the accused. The song is addressed to one from a seeming life of privilege who brags about sexuality as a means of empowerment and a hunger strike not out of necessity but as a chosen means of rebellion. The accused then defends his actions saying you cannot know my personal struggle. This dialogue technique has been used numerous times as in the song “Indemnity’” for example.

“Black Eyed Dog” is an interpretation of Nick Drake’s song. I multi-track howls and use a sort of Appalachian dialect – a vernacular as portal to different tonalities and accents. Another example where I use this particular dialect is “Within”, a song with Neurosis, and a song with Swans entitled “Hypogirl”.

“Blackmail” is the first song I sang as the opening of the set alone on stage in Swans. I especially like the first recording of the song which was a B side on a Swans record. It has a naiveté that is endearing.

“In My Garden” is a song I composed when I was attending university in Atlanta. I had an old upright piano and I’d hold the sustain pedals down for a moody effect. Later the song was recorded in the studio in Cornwall, England for Swans’ Children Of Godalbum.

“Forever” is from the Anhedoniac album. The graphic words use cancer as a metaphor for the breakdown of a marriage into divorce.

“Dear 666” is a blues song where the words and the melody came immediately and effortlessly to me as if channeling. The song is a commentary about abusers and a victim mindset.

“Receive” is to my mother who had died not long before this collaboration with Neurosis. I ask her to receive me in her arms when I will die.

“Lavender Girl” was written in the room where I was living at the recording studio building in Chicago for Swans’ The Great Annihilator album. The building had a severe mosquito infestation. The bites were unrelenting. It was a vile circumstance. I discovered that continuously burning incense in the room kept them away from me. The lyrics are an ode to this incense which saved me.

“Troll Lullaby” is a song inspired by memories of vivid visions experienced as a result of experimentation with hallucinogens as a teenager. The melody is intended as a demented nursery rhyme while warning of a chamber of horrors and not to fall asleep lest the troll eat you.

“Deflowered” and “Volcano” are both a commentary about being a girl in a rock band and the perceptions and cliches therein.

”Scorpion” is deliberately seductive in the recording and vocal delivery yet exploring a dangerous lesson learned by giving a lover power over you. If true power is the ability to experience vulnerability, then one both inflicts and receives pain. There is a reference to silk threads as a web and acknowledgment that the scorpion venom is addictive.

https://www.thewire.co.uk/audio/tracks/jarboe-selects-tracks-from-her-back-catalogue