Record Review: October 1992
Jarboe’s Thirteen Masks is the latest release from SKY Records. Jarboe is the keyboard player and second vocalist for Swans.
The music on Thirteen Masks reflects Jarboe’s background. She has been a performance artist, boxer and body [builder?]. She is also a student of religion, mystery, ritual and ceremony. She sang in tent revival meetings and played a pump organ in a dirt-floored church as a child. The first song, “Listen,” is hauntingly beautiful. Jarboe chants-sings over only chimes.
“Red” has been released as a CD single. A combination of heavy metal, industrial noise and hip hop, “Red” is a standout cut. Jarboe raps about every conceivable thought that comes to mind with the color red.
“A Man of Hate (Lord Misery version)” is a dark hymnwith attendant organ music. “The Believers” reminds me of Danielle Dax‘s work—Jarboe doesn’t stick with this one style. The song concerns a ritual with believers worshiping their priestess.
Jarboe again shows her versatility on “The Lonely Voyeur.” Comprised of acoustic guitar and Jarboe’s singing, the song contains more religious imagery. “…of the sign, of the sign of the cross…so don’t walk this red red river drink the blood from the cup.”
With “The Never Deserting Shadow,” Jarboe returns to a Danielle Dax style. “Wooden Idols” returns us to church. The song has a gospel flavor combined with rhythm and blues. Religious images are again contained in the lyrics: “…she was the devil’s daughter but now she carries a cross.”
“In An Open Sea” describes two hearts, inseparable despite the constant assault of life. Snakes, black crows, the mad moon and an angel beneath the ocean waters are some images Jarboe uses describing the two inseparable hearts and minds.
“Shotgun Road (Redemption)” opens with the sound of rain and a simple, repetitive keyboard. It is almost an acapella song similar to the opening “Listen,” containing surrealistic imagery of mirrors shattering, the feeling of living a life someone else lived before and a deadly game of solitaire. “I Got a Gun” returns us to the industrial noise arena. Jarboe will keep us from entering her house with a gun.
“Of Ancient Memory (The Oblivion Seekers)” has Jarboe with Annie Lennox‘s rich deep voice and Laurie Anderson‘s vocal distortion combined with surreal imagery and the color blue. Silent cold starts sending poison, black seas, red mountains and burning dead. Two lovers drink the waters of delight.
A Man of Hate” is reprised with acoustic guitar replacing the organ. No longer the dark hymn, it is now almost a folk song.
“Freedom” is prefaced by “Yo,” a spoken word piece: “He who suffers shall not be pitied.” “Freedom” is another industrial song. Jarboe seems to address a codependent lover. “I don’t want your love, I don’t want your pity, I don’t want your body, I don’t want your mouth, I don’t want your violence … freedom, my freedom.”
The CD ends with “Cries (For Spider).” Here we get the concept of the CD, the masks everyone lives behind.
Do the songs on the CD describe the masks Jarboe puts on to face the day? Buy it and decide for yourself. The poetry on the CD is dark, surreal, filled with colors, vivid images and religious references.
The CD has been a repeated visitor to my stereo. The music is so varied, so haunting, so disquieting that I never tire of listening to it. Jarboe brings a feeling of unease with her voice and lyrics combined with pleasure at the beauty of her recording, Thirteen Masks.”