Anhedoniac

Jarboe
1

Anhedoniac was released in 1998 as a mail order item. This remastered Atavistic reissue of 2004 is enhanced by two added tracks – an a capella and an instrumental version of I’m a Killer that bookend the album. The thematic and spiritual continuity with mid 1990s Swans is striking – more so than with the solo albums Thirteen Masks and Sacrificial Cake – the exception being the legions of vox entia that proliferate here.

Anhedoniac’s emotional frequencies resonate with many of Swans’ most intense moments and with The Body Lovers’ Number One of Three. Moreover, the music further explores directions pursued during various phases of Swans and World of Skin. Cohesion is solid, owing to the arrangement of narrative and segue and the sonospheres or ‘atmospheres’ that occur throughout.

2

Jarboe provided piano, organ, additional keyboards, vibraphones, bass, percussion, tapes, atmospheres and the legion of voices. Brian Castillo, Lary Seven and Joseph Budenholzer contributed guitars; Castillo, Seven and William Bronson supplied bass; Michael Evans and Bronson beat the drums. Mark Spybey, Christus Snipes, Brett Smith and Jerry Blue helped to complete the soundscape.

Through the vortex of agitated voices on I’m a Killer the phrase “words that draw blood” linked in my mind to a line in Anne Sexton’s poem The Dead Heart: “The tongue, the Chinese say, is like a sharp knife: it kills without drawing blood”.* Blood or not, it’s a killer. Over the title track’s repeating melodic keyboard loop, the voices engage in call-and-response chanting. ‘Haunted fairground’ I was thinking when the red velvet wound from Soundtracks for the Blind appeared. An omen.

3

Later, Anhedoniac Bottle displays a similar pattern, becoming ever more unsettling as diverse voices, including a tormented little girl’s, partake in the singing, unmoved by the clunk of a bottle hitting the floor. The link is You See Through Me on Gira’s solo album Drainland. From fairground to claustrophobic Cage as a robotic male vocal repeats a phrase which reveals spiritual yearning despite its crude carnal expression. Sudden roars, muffled outbursts, repressed disembodied voices and objects that crash and shatter pierce the wall of rolling thunder and grinding guitars.

4

Then gentle acoustic balladry lulls the listener whilst serenading aforementioned foul-mouthed Sinner until the music suddenly sinks into a harsh industrial netherworld where a jerky, thudding beat carries another unhinged voice, shepherding the listener towards the red velvet wound…

“And what do I do, With the gift you presented me, The one no one else would buy? They would not accept the filthy premise of your most terrible innocence. So let them say how you were wild, For what you really were was tender. Yes how you screamed all through the night, Yet silent tears streamed down in morning light, Most beautiful, my lonely sinner.”

… beyond which lies Not Noah’s Ark, an abyss of vox bestiarum, a cacophony of growls, bellows, bleats, burps and such. All taboos are ignored in order to capture the complete spectrum of mammalian sound from every orifice. Informative but not aesthetically pleasing. The concluding recital confirms that this is the primordial subconscious where all is “reduced to a greyish translucent slime of gore.” The root of this goes back to track 16 on 1992’s Love Of Life, nestled between God Loves America and No Cure For The Lonely. Titled (----), it’s composed of frisky percussion, soothing noises to reassure a howling kitteh and Jarboe telling it ‘I love you’.

5

Another type of terror surfaces on Mississippi where an old lady with a strange southern accent recounts a traumatic event. The eerie undertone is

accentuated by a symphony of chimes, insect choirs, rumbles and squawking birds. Compared to Mississippi and Not Noah’s Ark, Burn is mild, despite the ferocity of the voice which easily beats that of Mother Father from The Great Annihilator.

6

Fortunately sorrow also leads to the sublime, as in the numinous poem Forever where the vocal progresses from spoken to sung. And how gracefully it unfolds, reversing the entropic direction of Sinner. Halfway through, deadening despair gives way to surrender / resignation as something relaxes the grip of the emotional vise*.

7

The source of the intervention may be beyond comprehension but the means by which it acted here is partly clear. A seemingly insignificant element of Forever’s intricate sonic lattice is the subtle ululation that momentarily hovers over or after key words like ‘wastes’, writhing’, ‘heart’, ‘pain’ and ‘effigy.’ This sound effects the shift that leads to remission.

8

An aspect of the ineffable force becomes palpable on Under Will. Except for two spoken phrases by a male vocal, this majestic lament of wordless vocals and wavelike textures with chromatic, harmonic & modal shifts equals the similarly structured masterpiece Warm on The Great Annihilator.

9

The tonal poem Circles In Red Dirt opens with spoken voice. Exquisite background vocals gradually enter the picture to adorn and add depth to the recital. The Finnish band Panasonic transforms Circles into a striking sonosphere by blending voice, drones and polyrhythmic percussion which follows constantly morphing meters. Panasonic in Red Dirt brings to mind the most striking of what was termed ‘intelligent techno’ in the 1990s – the instrumental mood pieces of e.g. Autechre.

10

Conventional in structure and delivery, the softly swaying Sacred Disciple Wannabe and the gentle ballad Honey show no trace of the trauma that permeates Anhedoniac. It manifests in the lyrics, leaving the music untouched, whereby a peculiar type of tension arises. Honey bears a close resemblance to the torch songs of World of Skin or from another angle, the haunting track Blackmail that goes all the way back to about 1986. The host of vox entia return on the penultimate track, the original I’m a Killer, in all their growling, hollering, shrieking, sobbing, whimpering and sneering wounded splendour. Then the chthonic force is spent, exorcised, as this magnificent album concludes with an instrumental version of the song, voiceless yet more powerful than before. The triumphant finale of a power that is now controlled and directed.

“As before, This face, for centuries a memory, Non est species, neque decor. Expressionless, expresses God: it goes Past castled Sion. She knows what God knows, Not Calvary’s Cross nor crib at Bethlehem Now, and the world shall come to Walsingham.” From: Our Lady of Walsingham by Robert Lowell.

11

*The Poet Of Ignorance by Anne Sexton Perhaps the earth is floating, I do not know. Perhaps the stars are little paper cutups made by some giant scissors, I do not know. Perhaps the moon is a frozen tear, I do not know. Perhaps God is only a deep voice heard by the deaf, I do not know. Perhaps I am no one. True, I have a body and I cannot escape from it. I would like to fly out of my head, but that is out of the question. It is written on the tablet of destiny that I am stuck here in this human form. That being the case I would like to call attention to my problem. There is an animal inside me, clutching fast to my heart, a huge crab. The doctors of Boston have thrown up their hands. They have tried scalpels, needles, poison gasses and the like. The crab remains. It is a great weight. I try to forget it, go about my business, cook the broccoli, open the shut books, brush my teeth and tie my shoes. I have tried prayer but as I pray the crab grips harder and the pain enlarges. I had a dream once, perhaps it was a dream, that the crab was my ignorance of God. But who am I to believe in dreams?

12