© 2005

December 2005

Following the timely re-releases of Jarboe’s back catalogue courtesy of Atavistic, this long-anticipated double CD of collaborations finds extreme music’s original matriarch continuing in a tantalisingly brilliant form. Binary opposition was always a key component in Swans’ aesthetic lexicon, and as such Jarboe’s collaborators here are predominantly from the opposite sex. There is something celebratory about this: each of hte participants is audibly attuned to Jarboe’s unique tone, and each provides a canvas for her to work upon that is both provocative and illuminating. They want to be here, and they revel in the chance to accommodate her inimitable voice. Divided into one CD for guitar-based music and one for more dub-oriented pieces, each has a myriad of compositional styles and approaches to offer. Needless to say, given the calibre of every artist concerned, all are compelling.

Although almost every mutation of Jarboe’s expression is covered across this duo of discs, familiar territory may be found on the first, guitar-based outing. “Found”, featuring Alan Sparhawk, has an almost visionary quality, mesmerising and arid, while Current 93 luminary Joseph Budenholzer’s sparse chords on “Reason To Live” allow her trademark sibilance and flawless elocution the ease and space to weave magic. The effect is beautiful in its simplicity. The beauty doesn’t last however, with the arrival of Blizxa bargeld and Steve Von Till, who assist the lady’s demonic side in roaring, gargling and retching up some extremely distressing noises that sound like the painful death throes of some giant pus-filled maggot. It is unsettling stuff, and the very necessary foil to her otherwise celestial tenor.

Perhaps most surprising is the second disc, if only by virtue of the fact that it’s not a format over which we’re necessarily used to hearing her sing. James izzo’s delicately jazz noir “Penance” allows Jarboe’s redemptive, maternal softness a chance to show its almost heart breaking tenderness, while the collective contribution by Jim Thirlwell and William Faith on “Angel Jim” gives us a steamy latino romp that is surprisingly addictive.

The quality of this list of collaborators cannot be overstated and would make an essential album already, were it not for the guiding presence of this unique woman. That sensual voice, whose every tonguing of spittle can be heard, whose crisp pitch and fiery bellow continue to astound, has never been as diverse or vital. Sometimes Medusa, sometimes Aphrodite; but always Jarboe.

Ciaran Tracey