After a year like 2007 that Justin Broadrick and his Jesu project had, one has to wonder what J2 (his collaboration with Jarboe who has previously been in Swans and collaborated with Neurosis among others) is all about in reference to his numerous other projects (Final, Grey Machine, and the aforementioned Jesu as well as remixing duties for other artists and joining Sunn0))) on stage when they are in town). Considering the mixed reception that Jarboe's participation on the song "Storm Comin' On" from Jesu's last release, Lifeline, garnered, the anticipation for this record has been equally apprehensive. In surprising fashion, their eponymous debut is six tracks that stretch out over roughly forty-five minutes of electronic ambience.
From the first strains of the disconcerting and ethereal sounding vocals (it sounds like soundtracks to movies about legends like Excalibur or some film akin to that) of Jarboe, "Decay" is an exercise in discomforting sound and atmosphere that utilizes mechanical reverberations that are progressively joined by other background noises which underscore the vocal work that is constant throughout the track. The slow throbbing beat that "Let Go" establishes early on supports a much more conventional vocal performance from Jarboe while the guitars do their part in providing an aural depth to the piece. It is one of the more balanced songs on the album as Broadrick's electronic arrangements and guitars work well with the vocals that Jarboe supplies to create a less abrasive but still challenging sound. "Magick Girl" has a real hypnotic value with the repetition of the guitars, subtle electronics, and vocals that all maintain a steady pace throughout the song.
The more conventional "Romp" is rife with pop elements that move the song into a disjointed, weird, almost pop song. It is different (complete with crazy sounding laughing and moaning noises scattered in places throughout the track) and gives the album a change of pace before ending in a wall of Jarboe's vocals resonating to the end. I'll be honest, "Tribal Limo" would probably be a pretty great song if they took out some of the over the top elements of Jarboe's contributions which distract from instead of enhance the song. The good parts are really good: the droning guitars, the melodic electronics, an interesting rhythmic arrangement make for excellent music that almost shines in spite of the more distracting portions of the vocals which is just too bad because the distractions start to dominate in certain parts making the song tough a tough listen at times. The closing track, "8mmsweatbitter" kicks off with swirling noise and a tasteful keyboard melody before fading up into music, based around the initial keyboard melody, that would have sounded perfect on Jesu's Pale Sketches or Lifeline. Jarboe's vocals lend a more upbeat air or mood to the track that sets it apart from the other tracks on the record, which also makes it one of my favorite on Jarboe and Justin Broadricks first offering.
For a one off record (if it ends up being so), J2 is a bit slapdash with some high peaks of excellent music and some valleys of difficult arrangements. This album contains some good songs that I enjoy a great deal but it also holds some tracks that I might never listen to again which is wholly unfortunate. I said it before when discussing Jesu's Lifeline (sorry it is difficult to not keep going back to that record as it seems to have been the impetus for this project), Jarboe can make some great sounding songs while at other times can go way over the top and dominate entire tracks with her performance, a testament to the power of her ability but also evidence of her lack of restraint at times. J2 is sure to be just as polarizing as "Storm Comin' On" is; some people love it, some people hate it. And that might serve this project well - maybe it is what Broadrick and Jarboe intended with it. On the other hand, maybe the two of them just want to make music together, and at the very least J2 is compelling.
7.0 / 10
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