One of Jarboe’s mildest releases yet.
Ex-Swan Jarboe’s solo work has been defined by its deceptive complexity, as much a continuation of the industrial/goth/folk/ambient hodgepodge of tense but oddly comforting noise of her old band’s mid-‘90s behemoths as Michael Gira’s own outfit has been in its subsequent ‘10s rebirth. Yet, where Swans re-forged as the purest incarnation of volume as a form of ecstatic release, Jarboe has tended to use her own soundscapes for quieter, more introspective means. The Cut of the Warrior represents one of her mildest releases yet. A collection of four new tracks and three remixes, the album explores the artist’s interest in Buddhism, giving her own work a religious angle that offers a new perspective on her dark, somber experiments.
“Wayfaring Stranger in the Bardo” opens the album with Jarboe’s high, searching croon over blurts of church organ, blending her spaced-out lyrics of traversing the liminal space between death and the afterlife with religious tones of a more traditionally Western variety. For six-and-a-half minutes, Jarboe sings over this hypnotic backing, which deviates from its swelling chords only to incorporate her voice into a moaning background pattern or to gradually introduce a scraping, guitar-like squall. The harsh interludes complicate what is otherwise an elegant, floating track, a reminder that the space it is exploring is the great beyond. “GodGoddess” extends the album’s fascination with these lofty, unknowable queries. Here, Jarboe dispenses with lyrics altogether, cooing over a simple piano pattern until, gradually, her wordless vocals multiply and warp, sending herself into multi-tracked glossolalia in a depiction of pure spiritual connection with the divine.
“Feast” deepens the aural field with the haunting pluck of Asian stringed instruments and distant violin notes with a rumbling undercurrent of white noise. The occasional scrapes of metallic percussion compound the tension as Jarboe gives a Laurie Anderson-esque performance of spoken-word poetry in which she calmly, coldly remarks upon things like the sight of waves and the sound of bells to carry one’s soul into the next life. As with the opening track, “Feast” is at once blissful and nervous about the prospect of a world beyond this one, and the uncertainty of the soul’s journey causes as much atonal nervousness as it does elegant resignation. “Karuna” layers gongs at different locations in the sound mix, giving the sense of audio markers leading one further and further into the unknown. Clapping percussion and a recurrence of the earlier organ swells, albeit this time amusingly on the humbler tone of an accordion, are mowed down by Jarboe’s impassioned howls and undermined by her occasional, obscure whispering. One of the crucial elements of Swans’ turn to post-rock concerned the band’s understanding that sustain and repetition were means of building anticipation and release as much as the genre’s tendency toward constantly cresting waves, and Jarboe shrewdly applies that lesson to her own take on quasi-spiritual music.
The closing stretch of remixes testifies to the malleability of Jarboe’s approach, with some of the album’s compositions varying significantly with the input of other artists. Prior collaborators Byla stretch out the updraft of “Karuna,” emphasizing its brightest notes while elongating the chilly mountain air of the original into a fully enveloping billow of wind. The whole thing shimmers like sunlight on snow, and the occasional intrusion of glide guitar only cranks up the bliss. End Christian adds industrial dissonance to “Wayfaring Stranger in the Bardo” to make the original’s voyage even more cosmic, while Kris Force replaces the more tactile piano of “GodGoddess” with Tangerine Dream-esque loops of bright synths, even swapping out the layered chanting of the original for a gentler synthetic moan. These remixes are but the latest testament to the fact that the ever-prolific Jarboe is even better when working with others and hearing how the other artists deepen and redirect her spiritual compositions only further testifies to her attempts to find a linking release in art.