Friday, July 28, 2006

Revamp, renew (4 of 6)

Blackmouth - Blackmouth
Crowd Control

"The whole is more than the sum of its parts". This expression has been applied to many a musical collaboration, more often than not to denote the relative lack of talent of the individual members. It is only through the collaboration that this lack of talent is overcome, the strengths of one member complimenting the weaknesses of the other and vice versa. There are, however, rare instances when the whole is a reflection of the brilliance of all those involved. Blackmouth is one such instance.

This self-titled album was recorded between 1999 and 2000 and is the collaborative effort of producer John Bergin and guitarist Brett Smith (members of the dark sound explorers, Trust Obey) and Jarboe (famous for her work with Swans as well as her own challenging solo releases). The 14 tracks within are soaked in emotion, each a finely crafted gem that freezes a feeling in time and presents it to the listener to examine. And yet a constant flow and mood is maintained, all the while exploring different, sometimes seemingly discordant, musical genres; from black ambient ("The Conversion – Silent") to down tempo (the title track), through spoken word vocals ("Surrender To His Heart") to near-metal guitar pieces ("Seduce And Story"). Each track strikes a delicate balance between Jarboe’s stunning vocal talents and Bergin/Smith’s haunting instrumentals.

The album opens with the first of three versions of "The Conversion". This "Silent" mix floats into being on a wave of horn-like synths that swirl in the distance until Jarboe’s echoing voice bubbles up from the depths. There is a palpable confusion and longing in her words, as she questions a lost lover, "I’ve been trying to find a reason & you know what? I don’t think there is a reason – or an answer to it… It’s just all of this, well… weren’t we meant to be it? I can’t deny it… Can you deny it? What you want, what I need… & then just… you know the rest…" Then she disappears again into darkness, leaving that sense of ache hanging above a black sea of regret.

The title track is a loose, growling instrumental mix of slow percussion and bass rumbles. Here Bergin and Smith display their considerable talents, crafting a lurching, yet somehow funky soundpiece. At an even 2:00 minutes, this is the shortest track on the album, although Bergin and Smith’s other instrumental, "In A World Of Her Own", is a mere 16 seconds longer.

Other CD highlights include "Black Pulse Grain", wherein Jarboe displays her considerable vocal range, from a tiny child’s voice down to a guttural growl. The song itself is a chilling piece, populated with heavy bass thuds, thick percussion, and squelched woodwinds that curl around the vocal track like a strangling vine.

"And I Call Myself Hag" is composed completely of various overdubs of Jarboe, creating a vaporous, disturbing sound canvas replete with visions of MacBeth’s sinister Three Weird Sisters.

Perhaps the most unsubtle, powerful piece is "Seduce And Destroy", which begins with an upright bass providing the background as Jarboe croons, "You say contentment is… boring. And life is just so dull. A girl needs strife to have a good life. Well, you know what I say… F*CK OFF, BABY!" Then an explosion of a cavernous bass drops and crunching guitars from Bergin and Smith, while Jarboe’s vocal is electronically stretched and twisted, becoming a stunningly vicious bellow guaranteed to raise adrenaline levels. This on-again off-again pace is maintained throughout the piece, entrancing the listener one moment and then pummeling them the next.

This entire album is a testament to the talents of the three artists involved. Each member has a keen sense of how to meld their respective skills into a cohesive vision. The result is ominously dark and thought provoking.


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