“Jarboe’s first solo release outside of the Swans/Skin family tree is an admirably varied effort recorded at a variety of different sessions. Thirteen Masks often explores a number of styles not commonly seen in the work of Jarboe’s regular bands, from nightclub jazz to modern dancefloor moves, while at the same time demonstrating the dark appeal which she brings to her music and singing. She is assisted throughout by a number of Swans members and long-standing associates, including guitarists Clinton Steele and Norman Westberg, bassist Algis Kizys, and once in a while by her longtime partner in music and life, Michael Gira. The general statement of her broad musical intent comes right from the start: “Listen” is delicate, with strange musical chimes and an emotive vocal, but it’s immediately followed by “Red,” a slamming hip-hop/industrial dance number created with help from fellow art extremist Foetus. That in turn is followed by the effects-laden strings and harpsichord of “A Man of Hate,” which also reappears later in a different version. Throughout all of the various musical shifts, Jarboe’s strong lyrical vision holds true, laden with arresting images of extreme emotions, religious imagery, attacks on hypocrisy, and much more. Rural Southern blues crops up as an often subdued but still present influence musically and lyrically both, adding to the visceral appeal of the unique musical mix while steering away from the tired clichés of the field. Among the various standouts are “The Never-Deserting Shadow,” a brisk, upbeat folkish number with assistance on drums from old Swans member Roli Mosimann; “Shotgun Road (Redemption),” which is delivered quite beautifully over a lush guitar loop; and “Cries (For Spider),” a lovely reworking of a Swans track over Steele’s acoustic guitar and her own synths. An impressive debut bow.”

AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett

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