PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

A Reminder of Byla's Brilliance and Jarboe's Powerful Presence

Photo courtesy of A Perfect World Productions

Translation Loss unearths the stunning collaboration between three prominent musicians of the extreme experimental scene, which sheds light on one of the previous decade's forgotten gems.

Byla & Jarboe

Translation Loss

20 July 2018

This reissue from Translation Loss brings one of the more interesting collaborations, which I feel it was a bit forgotten in time. Byla, the ambient/noise project of Kevin Hufnagel and Colin Marston, both of Dysrhythmia and Gorguts, might not have released a plethora of material but made their presence felt with an excellent self-titled debut album and this collaboration. On the other hand, we also have Jarboe, the legendary vocalist of no-wave icons Swans, who really needs no introduction. In Viscera this trio explores a world filled with noise, as Byla use their impressive guitar work to produce the imposing soundscapes while Jarboe's vocals stand at the center of this magnificent storm.

What I found so interesting about Byla was the manner in which Marston and Hufnagel used guitars to create this noise/ambient sound. It is something that one does not encounter so often in noise records, with some obvious exceptions like Yellow Swans. That is not surprising, however, as both guitarists possess an uncanny knowledge of their main instrument and understand its intricacies to an impressive depth. The result from this process is an impressive wall of sound approach, which becomes the main force of Viscera.

Even though these soundscapes do offer a prolonged repetition, there is the illusion of a strange evolution taking place over time. The static manifestation is altered through breaks of black metal-esque guitar work that switch the overall motif. Harmonizing melodies are also introduced within this dark background and offer a brighter, dissonant drop from the wall of sound mode. But, the one element that remains unchanged is the intensity with which this sonic vision is structured, and through the record Byla and Jarboe keep pushing the sound and the listener beyond their breaking points, creating moments filled with a singular energy and intensity.

On the other hand, Jarboe produces some stunning vocal deliveries, making Viscera an even darker offering. From simple notions, as the breathing that kicks off the record, the various manifestations that her voice takes in this album is something simply astounding. At times her vocals appear buried under the heavy guitars, adding a more claustrophobic element to the already asphyxiating ambiance of this record. Coming from the bottom of some unearthly well, Jarboe sounds like a tormented spirit, echoing through the dark corridors of Viscera. In a different way, the more extreme tone that she takes on the third track is a force to be reckoned with, creating a hellish mantra that perfectly combines with the heavy wall of sound. It becomes one of the most extreme rides of the record, with the track remaining almost unchanging from start to finish. It makes the result sound like an infinitely long string is being pushed beyond its breaking point, but it never actually breaks. There is no catharsis here, just constant agony.

But, despite the overall aggressive tone and overwhelming quality of this work, Viscera is not a record without a mellower side. Byla and Jarboe offer a few moments of respite in the form of a few short breaks to smooth out the ride. In a more folky, atmospheric tone, Hufnagel and Marston unleash some soothing guitar lines, which arrive with an almost romantic undertone. The fourth track sees a similar approach, and when the guitars combine with Jarboe's clean delivery, they create a mesmerizing effect with an underlying folksy quality.

Considering the current experimental scene it feels as if Viscera was released a bit too early. Back in 2007 the metal scene, with which Hufnagel, Marston, and Jarboe have strong ties, found an allure in the post-metal and drone approaches rather than the noise and ambient investigations. That could have made Viscera fly a bit under the radar at that time, but a re-listen today exposes the depth and quality of the original release.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.