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Album Review

Anhedoniac is a giant leap forward in the musical odyssey undertaken by Jarboe, former vocalist, songwriter and keyboardist with Swans and the World of Skin. Jarboe possesses a lovely contralto normally, but she's not content to croon. In fact, she's always been interested in limits, the pushing, breaking, and transcending of them as she expands her own aesthetic universe. For all of its strange and obsessive darkness, Anhedoniac is not merely an exercise in transgression. Rather, it is an aesthetic polemic musically and lyrically. With aid from friends like Lary Seven, Brian E. Castillo, Joseph Budenholzer, Michael Evans, and Bill Bronson, Jarboe goes through the sonic wall she created on Red and Thirteen Masks. The vocal extremes are still here. They range from the edgy, near-insane whispers and whimpers (the title cut) to thunderous, possessed, caterwauling roars and screeches ("Not Noah's Ark") to clear, dignified near-plainsong ("Forever") to restrained yet malevolent spoken word ("Rage") to tribal roots chant ("Sacred Disciple Wannabe") to heart-rending wordless crooning ("Circles in Red Dirt"), but they are more disciplined, deliberate, and razor-sharp. In the grain of her voice, Jarboe holds the fury, willingness, strength, and heartbreak inherent in each of these songs taut against the labyrinthine textures in the music. Her voice is an instrument in the mix, but it is a separate one; it rides above and/or below the maelstrom and hush of the sonic swirl. It roots out the shapes and shades of meaning in any song's dynamics and gives it limitless depth and dimension, creating an intoxicating, nightmarish highway through archetypal and psychosexual tales of plagues and carnivals. The package is accentuated by photographs taken by filmmaker Richard Kern that imagistically underscore the music herein. Originally self-released in 1998 as a deluxe, limited-edition package, Anhedoniac was repackaged by Chicago's Atavistic label in 2004 as part of its Jarboe catalog reissue project.


Genre: Rock

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

Coming to rock and experimental music from a complex, fascinating background (both her parents were FBI agents; her upbringing in the South included such elements of extreme American religious faith as snake-handling ceremonies; and before her direct involvement in music she participated in "unorthodox sex work," to use her own words, in various U.S. cities), Jarboe, who has always preferred to be known by her sole name, has long been known as one of the fiercest spirits in modern music. She is an...
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Anhedoniac, Jarboe
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