Early collaborative masterpiece by Swans vocalist and composer,
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Beautiful People Ltd. (Audio CD)
This music of shifting moods and interweaving themes comprises intricate layers of sound. The album is challenging and addictive and mostly not reminiscent of Jarboe's solo work or that with Swans and World of Skin. It's astonishing that no instruments were conventionally employed in creating these haunting textures. Even more remarkable is the cohesion of an album of such stylistic diversity: breezy pop, techno, electro, tribal and industrial collages, folk, spoken poems, lullabies, nursery rhymes, experimental and ambient pieces.
Themes cross musical and emotional boundaries. For example, the major theme of childhood weaves through Bebe Marie, Coruscation, Liquid Bebe Psychedelia, My Bruise, I Know You Don't Like Me, Newborn Child, Show and I Feel Pretty. These tracks represent numerous distinct styles and/or contradictory emotions although stolen innocence characterizes all the darker ones.
'It's ok to be afraid,' Jarboe soothes Bebe Marie over exquisite percussive patterns, glockenspiel and reverberating chimes. The vocals alternate between spoken word and delicate phonation in the upper registers. One gets the impression of walking down a dark tunnel which is collapsing behind you.
Suddenly the scene changes to children playing a ritualistic circle game and the mood swings to mockery as her lilting contralto intones a hypnotic folk /gospel chant to harpsichords and handclaps. Sinister and compelling, A Coruscation warns of cult mind control in a manner that imitates the vocal and rhythmic techniques employed by mind manipulators. "Give up your religion, your skepticism, come along with me now, your mysticism" and it sounds simultaneously rousing, eerie and confusing.
The tale of Bebe Marie resumes in Liquid Bebe Psychedelia, mournful now despite the enchanting mid-tempo pop arrangement with its fuller harmonious instrumentation, undulating rhythms and choral vocals. This track is characteristic of the entire album; upfront many a track sounds like a lovely simple tune but somewhere things are happening to create a state of unease.
A choir of squawking crows welcomes the listener to the abyss, the recital My Bruise with its harp or sitar interlude. Then the deathly voice again, chilling in its resignation amidst the chorus of dark consorts. Still in the childhood milieu, I Know You Don't Like Me is a tuneful, minimalist, semi a cappella nursery rhyme. This brief moment of innocence which speaks of unreciprocated love must also be a send-up of the music hall genre. The dreamy Newborn Child evokes the image of Nico as soprano humming a lullaby to her harmonium.
In lighter vein, a phone conversation between a stalker and a teenage girl introduces Bernstein/Sondheim's I Feel Pretty. The flamboyant, exuberant vocal delivery with its operatic tonal gymnastics, skittering percussion, bleeps, raucous guitars and mock jazzy feel raises a smile so the concluding burst of maniacal laughter is irresistible.
Amongst the tribal types the semi-instrumental Danse Dementia's complex percussive patterns combine with distant wordless vocals for a spacious feel, whilst No has hardcore industrial percussion with muffled, perhaps vocoderized sighs, whispers and no's. Atmospheric ambient introduces L.S.B. where an intriguing call-and-response interaction develops between the torch song vocals and the instruments.
Innovative and exquisitely arranged percussion adorns the album throughout but particularly so on The Witch. This ballad's sitar, xylophone, chimes, pitches and tones are embellished by shimmering vocals, vocalising and whispers, bringing to mind the demented ghost of Cathy in Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights.
The tracks added for the enhanced 2004 release include the melodious techno pop Volcanic Ash Mix which resembles a track on the Swans album Soundtracks for the Blind.
No Mix approaches earlier Swans terrain in its stomping metallic beat and machine like vocal modality. Whereas Warm Liquid Event is a sensuous mid tempo pop ballad, the Warm Liquid Pleasure Mix merges reverb, echo, laughter, edgy percussion and mesmerising chanting into a hypnotic loop. Only about 5/6ths of the way does it start to resemble the opening track.
In the vocals, Suicide Song Mix has something of I Feel Pretty and I Know You Don't Like Me but this is disrupted by the chaotic arrangement which cleverly incorporates gurgling, bursts of laughter, croaking and spoken vocals. Somehow this blends well with the noisy backing in a dance of dissonance.
The thunder of galloping hooves opens Badge of Courage Mix, soon joined by propulsive percussion, resonant flutes, bells, whistling and a perfectly timed repeating reed or chime sound. A charming, stunning arrangement which appropriately ends in applause.
The brooding Unraveling Thread Mix is equally impressive. Vocals encompass Jarboe's spoken poem plus a variety of ominous unclear voices and eerie echoes. Some are slowed down, some in foreign languages, and they fade in and out of the atmospheric rumblings, tinklings, whirrs, drones and other metallic/industrial emanations. Beautiful People Ltd ends on a melodic high with an unlisted mystery track.
It takes a while to gain full access to all dimensions of this album of many moods and multiple mysteries.