MOST SINGERS are an easily classified lot. There are the Crooners, the Screamers, the Showboaters, the Rappers, and the Yarlers (i.e., post-grunge, post-Eddie Vedder vocal manglers), and that's pretty much that. Well, then there's Jarboe.
You would expect one of America's most brooding and versatile vocalists to have lived quite a colorful life, and you would indeed be correct. The offspring of a duo of FBI agents, Jarboe was drawn from the South to New York City in the '80s—which was, at the time, home to a bubbling cauldron of no-wave experimentalism, including a young musician named Michael Gira. Jarboe and Gira found kindred spirits in one another, and their musical partnership, the Swans, became one of the most respected cult bands on Earth: successfully bridging the gaps between scorched earth brutality, cloudy space dirges, and trembling folk meditations for over a decade.
Years later, while Gira plays label boss at Young God Records and jams with Akron/Family, Jarboe soldiers on, continuing down the dark path forged by the Swans. Her new double-length, The Men Album, showcases her sonic diversity for both good and ill. The record, divided into two volumes, "Guitars" and "Rhythms," fluctuates between searing vocal exorcisms and goth/world music fusions á la Dead Can Dance or Cocteau Twins. Any potential self-indulgences are more than offset by her revolving cast of all-star collaborators, including Legendary Pink Dots, Edward Ka-Spel, Low's Alan Sparhawk, and Bauhaus bassist David J.
As if you needed more examples of the woman's inspirational taste in company, look to her current cohorts in the How to Destroy the Universe Festival. Based out of the Bay Area, the festival has become a touring sideshow dedicated to "extreme music, performance, and art" that includes such luminaries as Blixa Bargeld and Savage Republic's torchbearers, F-Space. It's rare that such art-rock royalty makes it to our neck of the woods, so come and get it while the getting's good.