Unless you are an avid fan of the obscure, you’ve probably never heard the name Jarboe. Part spoken-word poet, performance artist and composer, she evades explanation by allowing herself the freedom to pursue any and all aesthetic endeavors. Jarboe got her start in the underground music scene in the mid-80s when she teamed up with Michael Gira and his iconic band Swans as the group’s co-vocalist and keyboardist. Since then, she’s released an abundance of solo material and worked on countless collaborative projects with artists ranging from Neurosis to A Perfect Circle.

Most recently, she joined with Justin K Broadrick, a former member of pioneering metal bands Napalm Death and Godflesh and a current guitarist/singer for Jesu. The resulting six-song EP bears the name J2 or joule: “The International System Unit of Electrical, Mechanical & Thermal Energy.” The title references not only the obvious unification of the two artistic “Js,” but also the process of creation. The duo exchanged ideas virtually by adding new layers of sound through file-sharing programs until they felt satisfied with a single product. The name merely opens the door to an ambiguous world unlike anything available in the mainstream or in the immediate underground.

“I don’t like the idea of being connected to a scene or clique or movement. It’s very easy to get sucked into that, said Jarboe, adding, “I kind of get nauseated at the idea of it now. I couldn’t stand to be pinned down and categorized like that.”

Although the EP rejects the usual compositional constructs, most of the tracks are actually quite listenable. The second track, “Let Go,” contains familiar lyrics and a standard approach to vocal melody. The down-tempo tune flows forth on long waves of organ and distorted guitar notes with minimal help from an alternating bass and drum. A few of the other songs, however, are entirely new to the aural pallete. In the opening track, “Decay,” spectral soprano vocals continuously revolve over a barely-audible pulsating bass line. A few minutes into the song, Broadrick rings in with a drudgy, distorted guitar to compete with Jarboe’s still-circulating singing. The sound is unsettling, with no frame of reference in terms of lyrics, hooks or song structure.

Although quite noble in an artistic sense, projects, such as J2 and artists like Jarboe find little validation from the outside world. “No one else may call it acceptable, done, perfect other than you, the person who is creating it,” said Jarboe. For years, the composer shirked the music industry machine in favor of hand-creating CDs and shipping them to individual listeners. While this allowed her the freedom to keep an open dialogue with fans and create genre-pushing music, it also made it difficult for business people to see the value in her or her art.

“I’d be happy doing that [hand-making albums], except for the missing link that is the machinations of touring. You can’t really get booked if you don’t have an established record label/PR firm behind you,” said Jarboe, continuing, “They want a company so big, so important that they have publicists that are going to guarantee you regional press when you go on tour. That’s pretty expensive to pay for, an artist, on your own.”

Driven by a desire to tour and disseminate her music, Jarboe teamed up with The End Records, a US-based independent label. With a motto “The End of music as we know it,” Jarboe seems a happy addition to the Addams-type family. She is currently wrapping up a solo record, loosely titled Child of Swans on The End. Although she had little to say about the actual sound of the new record, she offered this statement in parting: “As with all my releases, there are some surprises to be had on this forthcoming album.”

Somehow, it’s not hard to believe.


–Julie Pinsonneault