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CD of The Week

Week of 6/22/20

    Jehnny Beth - To Love Is To Live (20L07)

    Jehnny Beth lays her intentions bare from the very start of her solo debut album: "I am naked all the time / I am burning inside / I'm the voice no one can hear." Given her ongoing tenure as the magnetic front person for Savages, one of the last decade's most exhilarating new bands, that latter declaration might read a touch disingenuous at first. However, the line that follows might better illustrate what she means: "I have decided to be true." While her songs across her bands' first two albums never lacked for emotion amidst all their thrills and thrash, their reach was ultimately universal, all the better for projecting out to enthralled concert crowds. To Love Is To Live, however, finds her spinning narratives of a more personal kind. These songs are more specifically her stories, her desires, her identity. All come into searing focus over the subsequent 10 tracks, letting listeners see and hear Jehnny Beth in a new, darkly radiant light.

    "Flower" follows the declarative "I Am" and anxious "Innocence" with a confession of queer desire and insecurity, contrasting the comfort of lines like "She loves me and I love her" with the confusion of "I'm not sure how to please her." That confusion subsides later on with lead single "I'm the Man," as Beth's big energy blossoms with boasts like "There's no bitch in town who doesn't understand how hard my dick can be." Her ever commanding vocals sell the energy of both of these highlights, as if to convey and even normalize the ability to feel a full array of emotions. 

    She mirrors that emotional dynamism with a mastery of myriad musical styles that could never fully be explored with her band. Torchy pianos thread everything together with a sinewy tension that smartly, subtly releases over skittering electronica on "We Will Sin Together," ricocheting industrial clatter on the aforementioned "I'm the Man," and best of all, jazzy horn flourishes on standout "Heroine," where Beth teams with the xx's Romy Madley Croft to deliver a gothy take of the cosmopolitan early electropop of Bjork. One can only imagine (and lament) how these compositions may have translated in a live setting. Thanks again, COVID!

    Regardless, To Love Is To Live rivals any of Savages' most indelible moments in terms of sheer volatility and even one-ups a few of them with added vulnerability. Jehnny Beth proves herself to contain multitudes as massive and memorable as any experimental pop auteur currently at work. True to its title, her album feels lovingly made and breathtakingly alive at every turn. To listen is to love and live in it in kind. Have at it.

    Review by Rob Huff

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