As a member of baroque industrialists the Swans, Jarboe's spooky and gyno-centric tendencies penetrated the group's scathing fury until it was reduced to an apocalyptic boy/girl parody of itself. Thirteen Masks marked her '91 solo debut, and freed from the healthy counter-balance provided by a band, the menstrual mania flowed unchecked. This remastered reissue offers an expanded glimpse into Jarboe's primal songwriting. And though most of her lyrics simultaneously celebrate and mourn her sexuality, Jarboe's true strengths lie in her ability to adapt to a number of musical forms.
Thirteen Masks treks through a patchwork of folk, industrial and avant-garde soundscapes that pour seamlessly into each other. "Red" emerges as the strongest number of the whole recording. Arranged and executed with the help of fellow disturbed industrial-rock pioneer J.G. Thirlwell (aka Foetus), "Red" is a staccato burst of energy in a collection of otherwise colorless tirades. At the time of its making, industrial music was still working its way into the greater lexicon of pop music. Thirteen years later, the song retains the same sense of cutting-edge grit and experimentation. But when paired with wishy-washy, ethereal filler like "A Man of Hate (Lord Misery)" and the utterly embarrassing "St. John," the uneven pace of the music is a harsh reminder that this was indeed her first solo venture. "Freedom" is a Patti Smith-style punky chant and "Surrender" is a surly bit of droning and bloated textures. Thirteen Masks is early proof that although Jarboe is a woman of many faces, some are better than others.