Few artists have been as prolific as Jarboe. Through almost sixty albums, the Mississippi native has maintained an abrasive consistency in her work. Not limited by labels or definitions, Jarboe has surpassed terms such as 'avant-garde' and 'experimental.' While some artists find themselves easy to describe or pigeonhole, Jarboe continues to defy convention all the while reinventing herself in the process.
Jarboe is best known for her time as a member of Swans. She and songwriter Michael Gira's tumultuous relationship culminated in several releases for the group. In doing so, they were able to push the limitations of what could be accomplished with abrasive musical art. The pair's dysfunctional love life played out in their collaborative efforts and served as a part of Gira's Drainland album. On "You See Through Me," a recorded conversation between the pair showed a disjointed partnership unraveling in the wake of alcoholism. She would go on to collaborate with Neurosis in 2003 and even contribute a to Swans' album Seer in 2012.
Illusory sees Jarboe merging serenity, atmosphere and demonstrating musical prowess that resides at the highest levels of conceptual and experimental art. It would be easy to simply pigeonhole this newest effort as Avant-Garde. Jarboe shows us that she's an artist without limitations and offers something altogether different from expectation and definition.
In 2020, there appears to be no shortage of subgenres that cater to every taste in music. Experimentation is almost becoming oversaturated at this point. Now more than ever, it's important that artists are true to themselves and the work they create. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the albums opening track, "Illusory." The haunting score of a piano fused with Jarboe's ethereal voice engulfs the listener in serenity and isolation. The closing lyric of "I'm here, I'm still her…" is a firm declaration from an artist who hasn't compromised their vision to fit current trends.
"Cathedral" and "Flight", in particular, are standout songs that demonstrate spellbinding vocal prowess. Sewing harmony and discord together, Jarboe's vocalizations crawl down your spine and wrap around themselves around you. The vocal production on "Cathedral" mimics a dirge and Jarboe emphasizes pathos and melancholy that few are capable of. At times it's difficult to discern what's more captivating–the vocals or the dissonant music that accompanies them. Both flow together flawlessly as a cohesive unit. Like many conceptual works of art, Illusory needs to be experienced in its entirety to be fully appreciated.
Jarboe sustains fluid continuity on Illusory, not once coming close to repetition or tedium. Her vocalizing throughout is one of the decisive factors in shaping the unique atmosphere that emanates with each passing moment. "Man of Hate", the albums concluding track, is driven prominently by clean vocals. As the lengthiest composition on the album, it contains lyrical content that grants insight into the tortured soul that dwells in so many artists. Passages such as "Reveal my good confession, what I hope to gain. I admit to grand obsession, breathing in my veins…" are poetic in their turmoil, All of these years later, and it appears Jarboe has a response for Gira's Drainland ballad.
Very few artists have captured the type of emotion and cataclysmic atmosphere of Jarboe. She continues to captivate audiences all the while furthering her legacy. With the uncertainty of recent events ever-present, we have the reassurance that there will always be artists who create a separate reality that we can not only retreat into but embrace as our own.