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Jarboe – Thirteen Masks

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I really like this album, even though I can’t make heads or tails of it. Jarboe is unquestionably talented and her voice is so thick and luscious it sounds tangible. Every track is strong–there’s nothing to skip over. The album’s sound is unique and changes over the course of the album while still remaining consistent and identifiable.

The problem, then, is partly because the album’s aesthetics are so solidly in place. With such a great sound, I’m then thrilled to begin diving into the meat of the album. However, diving into Thirteen Masks is a bit like diving into quicksand; at first it’s difficult to maneuver, then the more frantically you try to make meaning of the album, the more stuck you get.

The song “Freedom” is a prime example of this; it’s a great song and it’s undeniably powerful. The lyrics are pointed and dynamic. However, the more I listen to the song, the more I realize that I have no idea whether the lyrics are intensely personal and about someone specific or have a far wider reach and are about everyone in general. I don’t know if the song is feminist, perhaps, or anti-government or anti-humanity or none of the above. I have no problem with ambiguity or room for interpretation, but I find the forcefulness of Jarboe’s opacity and her refusal to give the listener a way into her work frustrating. While this album has quickly grown on me and has found a near-permanent place in my CD player, I can’t help but feel a little bit left out by it as well.

Rating (out of 10): 8.7

Recommended if you like: Early Tori Amos, Loreena McKennit, Laurie Anderson

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