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.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


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.

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.