Review / Jarboe – Skin Blood Women Roses

Since the early 1980s, lauded singer and musician Jarboe has been lending her classically trained voice to the vanguards of rock music and beyond. She was crucial to the Swans sound from the tail-end of their early visceral no wave stage, through their avant-folk segue and for their return to harder material such as The Great Annihilator and Soundtracks for the Blind up until their hiatus in 1997.

For those unfamiliar with Skin Blood Women Roses, it was initially released in 1987 under the name Skin (later The World of Skin), an offshoot project from Jarboe and other core Swans member Michael Gira that served as a more melodic diversion from the raw early Swans sound. Jarboe’s vocals are central to the compositions here, her semi-operatic, sometimes sermonic delivery and spoken word intermissions casting lights that reveal shadows of mortality and grief. The music treads more classical territory, the sneering guitars and distortion eschewed in favour of string arrangements and Jarboe’s trained piano playing.

However this mood is never quite settled and some of those characteristics more familiar to listeners of Swans make their appearance: the sombre amelodic refrains and jarring samples; the arrangements that are minimal by design yet maximal through execution, sat somewhere between claustrophobia and agoraphobia. Gira’s drum programming is particularly sparse, the one-to-the-floor drum machine kicks acting almost as a seismic metronome. Tracks like ‘Red Rose’ bridge on the ritualistic, with cold jaunty instrumentation and ghostly whispers. ‘Blood On Your Hands’ plays like an anti-new age tune, an ostensibly harmless piece harbouring dark rhymes that hint at infanticide.

The two covers on the tracklist only add to the eclecticism; a dazzling rendition of Gershwin’s showtune standard ‘The Man I Love’, and a sinister recital of Arthur Hamilton classic ‘Cry Me a River’ that frame the once sentimental lyrics in haunting new ways. This fully remastered reissue of the record contains bonus tracks including two ‘Come Out’ VIPs and a limelit live version of ‘The Man I Love’.

Jarboe’s music has often taken influence from genres that alone cater to very different audiences and as such she’s always filled a peerless space. Skin Blood Women Roses was pivotal in establishing her talents and this reissue is a must for fans and newcomers alike.

Skin Blood Women Roses is out on Record Store Day, 23rd April via Consouling Sounds and can be purchased here.

Words: Rory Hughes

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