The world of extreme music is such a fertile creative space that it often lapses into the incestuous. Venn diagrams of taste and talent expand to encompass creatives who share sonic palettes and influences to the point where it’s a foregone conclusion that they will work together. In some cases this is a thing of permanence – think on the beloved-but-gauche music journalist term ‘supergroup’; Russian Circles, Shrinebuilder, literally anything Aaron Turner has been involved with over the last decade. Then there are those unities that could only occur but once; Mike Patton and Dillinger Escape Plan, Middian, Julie Christmas and Cult Of Luna, and (to cut to the point) Neurosis & Jarboe.
An album re-issue or re-release creates a little chop in the waters of originality and authenticity. If something was captured in a moment, a flash of inspiration and experimentation borne from a scenario that could never be replicated, surely this is the only such version of it that should exist? Should a re-issue seek to ‘improve’ upon this with updated mixing or mastering, or should it simply be a release of exactly the same material in a new format or simply in the same, but now long unavailable, formats? This lofty line of questioning isn’t what we’re here to break down. Thirteen years on from the original release, how does the self-titled release from the collaboration between the Oakland post-metal titles and Jarboe, of ‘classic’ Swans fame as well as a body of solo releases, hold up? As part of Neurosis’ recent campaign of re-releasing their earliest material, it makes sense to having re-released this now; they sit at a point on their timeline where most bands would consider the retrospective.
Released between 2001’s A Sun That Never sets and 2004’s The Eye of Every Storm, Neurosis & Jarboe captures the band at a transitional time, a fertile period where they embraced folk and electronic influences It seems natural that this would have been the point where they had opened the fold to embrace external input, to ally with a kindred spirit and produce something steeped in otherness.
So, onto the music. Neurosis and Jarboe opens with ‘Within’ which powers up with a slow uncomfortable whine before Jason Roeder’s pounding toms join the fray. A loop of 80’s horror film synths starts to wail, Jarboe joining with an unsettling spoken word catechism of breathy whisper that jars, refusing to settle into the deep-set groove. Stripping back to animalistic panting leaving nothing but her lilting, lullaby voice, it’s a moment of fragility as hesitant keys mirror the vocal melody before the tracks main theme bursts back in. Next up is ‘His Last Words’ which moves with broken, shifting electronics that stutter and throb. Here Jarboe lays herself bare through the incredible personal lyrics dealing with her father’s slow decline into age and illness, pierced with spears of wailing guitars as Neurosis assert themselves with bass heavy, lurching riffing.
‘Taker’ echoes and chimes over a burbling, snarling bass run, as softly crooned vocals glide over the churning instruments. Urgent, incessant whispering continues as the track accumulates layers and guitars grind out held notes over the irresistible bass undertow. ‘Receive’ thumps with noise, throbbing organically, layered under a melody like a distant heartbeat. Clear, confessional vocals warble, set to the fore over restrained, bright acoustic notes, taking on the aspect of prayer. ‘Erase’ wanders in with forlorn guitars at a weary pace, snatches of vocal melody unsettling, building slowly and steadily before cracking as the guitars do the same. The repeated refrain of “defy me” is peppered by droning synths and restless drumming.
‘Cringe’ sweeps in with fat synths and sequenced drums, an electronic breeze rising to a gale before dropping into distant drums and bright, ethereal looping. Meanwhile, ‘In Harm’s Way’ thumps with atavistic drumming, galloping over distorted, tentative guitars and sweepingly operatic vocals. Closer ‘Seizure’ chitters with noise over bold acoustic strums, sparsely dotted around a seemingly cavernous aural space. As mournful vocals lament over clanging chords, there is a vibe of western folk shot through with Steve Von Till’s smoky croon and shimmering electronics. It’s an unhurried sonic collage, ending in layers of voices and a crescendo of repeated phrasing.
Neurosis & Jarboe sits in a curious space in that it isn’t directly ‘for’ any specific niche. Hardcore Neurosis purists may snub it as a diluting of the band’s core sonic identity, a passing distraction, as will fervid Jarboe acolytes inversely. But neither artist has ever done anything ‘for’ anyone, to any external expectations, and this record is a clear reflection of that. To those who have broad musical boundaries, this is a hypnotic and verdant landscape that sounds just as vibrant and risky as it did on original release.
Neurosis & Jarboe is out now and can be purchased here.
Words: Jay Hampshire