Jarboe The Men Album

[Altavistic; 2005]

Styles: the extent of true collaboration between a man and a woman and the point in which one gender dominates the process. While I wouldn’t go as far to say that Jarboe wants to make some brilliant social c
Others: Swans, Steve Von Till, raves featuring female singers

Jarboe is well known for her ability to whisk through multiple styles over the course of a few songs ever since Swans disbanded and the singularly-named siren went solo. The consistency of the music's versatility has always been her voice, a frightening and beautiful satin sheet that chokes and caresses the ear. The Men Album is the six-year project spread over two discs and backed by a strong list of collaborators. Jarboe explains the concept as a woman's dreams and identity interpreted through the masculine gaze, an idea enforced by its primarily male musicians (members of Icehouse, Foetus, Revolting Cocks, Bauhaus, Neurosis, etc.). This is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of The Men Album: the extent of true collaboration between a man and a woman and the point in which one gender dominates the process. While I wouldn't go as far to say that Jarboe wants to make some brilliant social commentary, I will say that the results sometimes confirm our suspicions.

Disc one, appropriately subtitled Guitars, is the more engaging and more natural half. "This Is Life," which is reprised in two other songs, opens as a two-chord radio rocker, one I unfortunately imagine a more mature Evanescence fan might enjoy with its operatic vocal delivery overpowering, yes, "swirling guitars." Despite the shaky beginning, her duet with Alan Sparhawk (Low) that immediately follows is a haunting love song actually sounding a bit like the one-off "Half Light" from the Mothman Prophecies soundtrack. "Found" relies on a dark Middle-Eastern melody and rhythm warped under psychedelic production. To recall an interview from a couple years ago, Jarboe described her musical relationship with Sparhawk as "democratic," more akin to a union of ideas.

Come to think of it, I hear more cohesion on this disc than on the second. The collaborative holdover from 2003's overlooked Neurosis & Jarboe, Steve Von Till, is one of The Men Album's greatest triumphs. It's less drone-metal and more rock with a bit of the Tribes of Neurot that crept into that first pairing. A dirgeful acoustic guitar picks three strings while Jarboe proclaims extended wails overhead, and about three minutes in, a stoner-rock riff brings the track to hair-swinging action.

Speaking of hair-swinging, "Reason to Live" will hopefully do the same for Kiss as Mark Kozelek did for AC/DC. Jarboe transforms the make-up-less-era Kiss song from pop-metal schlock to delicate beauty. It's not enough to make me reconsider a Criss-less Kiss, but it sure does beg for a Jarboe covers album.

Disc two, subtitled Rhythms, is a mixed bag. Comprised partly of originals, most tracks take source material from Guitars to remix. The nature of the remix, interestingly enough, is a certain gaze. My initial thought was that this would be the true test of Jarboe's concept, but it fails at the hands of the programmer. The first and last tracks sample "This Is Life": the former adds an embarrassing smooth jazz singer and the latter attempts 13-minute ambient dance music that's ultimately disappointing. "Torn Kiss" is the chill remix by David Torn that should have been extended. It works with the line "A kiss is a sacrifice," multilayered synths, electro bass lines, and guitar screeches.

As much as I shyly admit to enjoying some house music and the 808, the beats on Rhythms are fairly standard and hardly live up to Jarboe's earlier forays into dance music. If it weren't for this disc, my rating would be a 4/5, as Guitars is truly an engaging album in itself. Considering the strength of first half of The Men Album, I'd still recommend it.

Disc One: Guitars
1. This Is Life (f. William Faith)
2. Found (f. Alan Sparhawk)
3. To Forget (f. Iva Davies)
4. Reason to Live (f. Joseph Budenholzer)
5. Redeemer
6. A Woman's Dreams (f. Monica Richards, Paz Lenchantin)
7. Into Feral (f. Nic Le Ban, Blixa Bargeld)
8. Feral Blixa (f. Blixa Bargeld)
9. Feral (f. Steve Von Till, Paz Lenchantin, Michael Rollins, William Faith)
10. Your Virgin Martyr (f. Nic Le Ban)
Disc Two: Rhythms

1. This Is Life, Meridien (f. Percy Howard)
2. Angel Davi - Rilke Mix (f. David J)
3. Dark Strong Sauce (f. Mika Vainio)
4. Bass Force (f. Kris Force)/Angel Jim - Low Rider Mix (f. Jim Thirlwell, Paz Lenchantin, William Faith)
5. Torn Kiss (f. David Thorn)
6. Penance (f. James Izzo)
7. Subtraction (f. Chris Connelly)
8. Jarboe Feral (Durga)
9. When the Sun Rises (f. Blind Michael Bradley, Diana Obscura)
10. Edward Life (f. Edward Ka-Spel)