Jehnny Beth is a name that stands out on the music scene. Out of France, she is famously known as the lead voice of the Rock band Savages, however, her roots run far deeper. A singer, songwriter, actress, and soon to be author with the forthcoming release of her erotic short stories book, Beth is a unique artist. One half of the lo-fi duo John & Jehn, she has also lent talents to others such as Gorillaz, PJ Harvey, Anna Calvi, as well as Julian Casablancas. Now taking the next step in her evolution, Beth is set to unleash her debut solo album, To Love Is to Live, on June 12, 2020 via Caroline Records.
Produced by Flood, Academy Award Winner Atticus Ross, and Johnny Hostile (the other half of John & Jehn), the album also features contributions from the xx’s Romy and Actor Cillian Murphy. With no shortage of intrigue, before going any further it is important to understand Beth’s background to truly grasp her vision. Born to Catholic theater-director parents, she clearly found freedom from the rigidness of religion within the spectrum of music. Further broadening her horizons, Beth embraced herself, thus became free-thinking, and soon became free of the shackles of repression. What does this all mean? It means she is open and unafraid of sexuality, and this is evident in the music. It is no secret she sang about such things while with Savages, but To Love Is to Live takes matters to the next level.
Now, this is not to say To Love Is to Live is singularly about sex, because it is not. In reality, the album is more of an escape into the endless possibilities of being a human being. In the world we have created there are stereotypes, limitations, but also undeniable evils. Beth’s album is a true view beyond the guise of society, and if you are willing to let go of pretense, you can get lost in it all.
These ideas laid out, the album consists of eleven tracks, immediately tempting you into Beth’s world with “I Am.” A dark, seductive dream-like experience, Beth then leads you along into an oasis of unapologetic feeling. As the narrator, she has no inhibition in her approach and the sincerity is heard in her infliction. This is evident in the rough “Innocence,” metaphorically arousing “Flower,” and lustful “We Will Sin Together.”
Then are even more insightful moments with Cillian Murphy’s voice dressing the narrative of “A Place Above,” before the vicious industrial, empowering “I’m The Man.” Further into the abyss, the harsher tones give way to more subtle instrumentation with “The Rooms” and the softer textures of “The French Countryside.” This is while the more distorted yet extremely emotive “Heroine,” and the digital-laden “How Could You,” featuring IDLES’ Joe Talbot, really get the blood flowing. However, it is the closing of “Human” which truly embodies the message behind To Love Is To Live completely.
Overall, this is an album that is not for the average listener, but if you know who Jehnny Beth is, chances are you are far from such. To Love Is to Live is dark, at points contextually ominous on the surface, but full of beauty and light beneath the skin. A marvelous odyssey worth diving into, Cryptic Rock gives it 4.5 out of 5 stars.