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Jarboe / Justin K. Broadrick
[The End; 2008]
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When two artists with résumés like Jarboe and Justin Broadrick join forces, it's hard not to have high expectations. It would take many more words than this review warrants to describe the immense influence these artists have had on underground music: Between Broadrick's work with Napalm Death, Godflesh, Final, Techno Animal, and Curse of the Golden Vampire-- and that's leaving out a bunch (!)-- and Jarboe's with Swans, World of Skin, her solo albums, and numerous collaborations, all kinds of genres have been touched upon, if not entirely reworked: ambient, blues, cabaret, digital hardcore, doom, drum'n'bass, dub, grindcore, electronica, gothic, industrial, shoegaze, pop, psych folk, regular ol' rock, tribal. An open-eared musicologist could notice how these various strains grew horns, fangs, and wings and evolved into a whole new kind of beast after one of the Js left their golden touch. (For example, follow the way industrial metal and ambient guitar drone got a facelift by Broadrick, or note the weird and wonderful cross-pollinations Jarboe crystallized from mixing cabaret, blues, and goth with electronica sounds.)
This pairing comes at an interesting juncture in both of their careers as both are possibly at their peak of recognition. For Broadrick, his brilliant Jesu project (a kind of epic and melodic, shoegaze-glazed Godflesh) has been like the elder master responding to the work of his students (primarily the whole Neurosis-Isis-Pelican post-rock metalgaze school) and in turn, blowing open the whole genre, yet again. Whereas with Jarboe, her Diamanda Galas-gone-(even more)-ballistic demon-diva thing has come home to roost among a new generation of extreme music lovers via her recent metal-related spin-offs: The last several years have found her involved with a Neurosis collaboration album, a band called Byla (featuring members of NYC-based prog/death bands Dysrhythmia and Behold...the Arctopus), a tag-team with black-metallers Cobalt, a guest video appearance with the Agony Scene, as well as loaned vocals for Tool's Maynard James Keenan-related projects A Perfect Circle and Puscifier. And there's more, but we still have a new album to talk about...
Sonically, J2 sounds most like the terrain Jarboe has been exploring as a solo artist: dark electronica, laced, bound, and gagged with goth, psychedelia, and metal. Yet the seeds of this album were planted during the Jarboe-sung "Storm Comin'" from Jesu's recent Lifeline EP-- a dance-y, swirly, poppy track, perhaps even recorded during the same session as these. J2 opener "Decay" begins with eerie, heavily effected Jarboe yodels with a spooky synth-bass churning underneath. Then you get blasted with that thunderous distorted bass-- also an echo of sorts, showing how Broadrick's grit-doom bass from the first few industrial-based Godflesh albums owed a ton (operative word meaning heavy) to the Swans' early nightmare stomps.
As to be expected, these six songs are packed with the signature components that make each artist so strong, but also included are their weaknesses: As "Let Go" and "Magick Girl" exemplify, sometimes the keyboard tones and drum machine choices that J & J have both chosen over the years leave something to be desired-- sound choices that are often an overlooked mainstay of Jesu and most of Jarboe's solo output. If watery, cheesy keyboards, not-so present piano, and canned drums with tinny sampled cymbals don't bother you, then it's easily overlooked. But still, those songs also show off some individual genius: While Jarboe explores different voices colored with different expressions of fire and air, often repeating and slowly building, Broadrick drops in his stupidly/brilliantly primal guitar sludge. The rest of the album splits the differen