Jarboe and Helen Money - Jarboe and Helen Money

by Andy Brown Rating:9 Release Date:2015-03-02

Jarboe & Helen Money only clocks in at 29 minutes, yet from the weeping cello that opens the EP to the first appearance of Jarboe’s mesmeric vocals, you’re fully absorbed in the deep, nocturnal atmosphere and spectral tones of the recordings. The EP was made with the artists working both together and apart, bringing the recordings together to produce something that feels accomplished, whole and darkly beautiful.

Perhaps the better known of the two, Jarboe La Salle Devereaux was one of the core members of Michael Gira’s Swans before their initial split in the late-90s, her vocals adding further strength to the bands often brutal chemistry. Jarboe has 36 solo albums to her name and an impressive list of collaborators that take in everyone from Neurosis to Einstürzende Neubauten’s Blixa Bargeld.  

Helen Money (aka Alison Chesley) is an experimental musician, seasoned cellist and striking performer. I was lucky enough to see her supporting Shellac in Leeds in 2013 and can safely say that I’ve never seen anyone get so much noise and sublime dissonance from a cello. She’s worked with artists as diverse as Canadian indie-types Broken Social Scene, Japanese post-rockers Mono and Anthrax (yes, that, Anthrax).

The EP sets the tone immediately with the sombre strings, sparse atmospherics, and sweeping melancholy of ‘For My Father’. Jarboe’s ghostly vocals seep through Chesley’s richly realised instrumentation, adding gentle piano parts to the stripped-back, devotional tone of the recordings.

This bleeds naturally into the slowly unfurling swell of ‘My Enemy My Friend’, an instrumental piece that keeps the tense yet emotional tone of the record. The strings remind me of the recent Blixa Bargeld & Teho Teardo album, Still Smiling, both records carrying a patiently minimal, experimental air.

Although a predominantly quiet record, it’s the Eps mastery of tension that makes it such an engaging listen. ‘Hello Mr Blue’ is perhaps the closest the record gets to ‘rocking out’ with its menacing, repeated bassline underpinning another superb vocal performance from Jarboe. When the track does finally explode, it feels genuinely cathartic and arrestingly powerful, arguably sharing some common ground with the last, doom-influenced Portishead album.

Instrumental piece ‘Wired’ starts with a flurry of distorted noise before settling into a strange, textured soundscape of strings and piano, with Jarboe’s harmonies quietly singing you to shipwreck. Jarboe’s voice acts as an instrument in itself, harmonies continually floating through the record's sparse terrain. ‘Truth’ is a startling, bare-boned composition with Jarboe’s voice rising to the fore with all the ethereal glory and musical authority we’ve come to expect as she sings of “the moon/ the sun/ and the truth”.

‘Every Confidence’ begins with a wall of drones and oddly meditative noise, Chesley’s cello pulling us further into the darkness. It’s like you’re on the edge of the Black Lodge (from the soon-to-return Twin Peaks), about to step into the unknown. In many ways, the record feels like a departure for the always reliable yet usually very heavy Aurora Borealis label, the closest in its impressive back-catalogue perhaps being the Haxan Cloak record.

Jarboe & Helen Money is a powerful piece of work. The record stands as a focussed, personal collection of recordings that make up one short yet satisfyingly immersive late-night stroll. Try putting the EP on your headphone’s while out, preferably alone and late on, and see just how deep 29 minutes of recordings can go. Magical stuff. 

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