Accomplished French singer/songwriter Camille Berthomier, better known as Jehnny Beth, has been the frontwoman for the English band Savages since their formation in 2011 and one half of the Lo-Fi duo John and Jehn. On June 12th Jehnny Beth released her first solo effort, To Love is To Live. The recording delivers a highly concentrated dose of Beth’s guiding ethos. Beth draws upon her insights into the modern conundrums of existence while acknowledging human kinds’ eternal struggles. The tracks utilize electrifying industrial beauty with slashes of pastoral respite. Overall the songs are best described as hard as granite on the outside with achingly evocative emotion on the inside.
The album was recorded in LA, London, and Paris and was produced with Flood and Atticus Ross. Beth utilizes a number of collaborations on the release, including a spoken selection from actor Cillian Murphy on “A Place Above” and a duet with IDLES frontman Joe Talbot on “How Could You”.
Beth on To Love is To Live uses a wide palette of social commentary to examine life and how we progress from the innocence of childhood through the tumult of adulthood into the bittersweet reminiscence of old age. She embodies numerous personas and viewpoints throughout the recording. The release begins with “I Am” and a ticking clock that reminds us that time is slipping past. This dramatic track attempts to gain an understanding of the individual’s place in the world and how insignificant we actually are in comparison to eternity. Her apt banshee-like delivery conjures up this storm of uncertainty. The opener is a thesis statement for what is to follow.
Throughout the album, the complications of sexuality are examined, “Innocence” which was inspired by Beth thinking about the life of a pole dancer, channels Kate Bush’s “ Waking the Witch” from “Running Up that Hill” and modernizes it for our current decade. “Flower” follows with a sensual song about the politics of sex with a more sonically minimal track. The idea of sin is also explored with the tracks “We Will Sin Together” and “A Place Above”. “We Will Sin Together” comes to the conclusion that no matter our proclivity we are all flawed and damage the very things we love. On “A Place Above” Cillian Murphy’s chilling narration enumerates the sins of men, made all the more prescient by our current chaotic situation.
The next two tracks “I’m the Man and The Rooms” are a counterbalance to each other. “I’m The Man” illustrates the interconnection of oppressor and submissive, violence and power that overwhelm the weak enslaving them, with males typically being the overlord and worst offenders. Beth takes this concept beyond stereotype pondering the questions of if this male behaviour pattern is inherent or learned. The track is frenetic and engaging making it a powerful first single. “The Rooms” takes off from “I’m the Man” but utilizes a simple piano, jazz sax and found sounds to get its point across. The listener hears the lyrics of the prior track almost as if walking through an apartment building overhearing conversations. There is this sigh as the narrator flips the power with the lyric “Don’t tell me how it is boy, because I have seen it all.” The two tracks are gripping and linger with the listener long after they are heard.
The release never relents as each song becomes stronger and more dazzling. “Heroine” provides fantastic percussion, jazz horns and throbbing bass to accompany its narrative about wanting to be the protagonist on one’s life story. “How Could You” with its engaging duet is a barnburner of a track with off the leash frenetic energy as it examines the daily irritations with partners, life, fate and strangers. The loveliest part of the album is the evocative piano ballad “The French Countryside”. Here Beth harkens her inner Tori Amos. The track is a nice contrast from the overall strum and angst of the battle of the sexes that is a main theme throughout the release. The final track “Human” is the summation of the recording’s theses, exploring the phases of life and ends with the lyrics of “I Am” as it winds down like life into eternity.
To Love is To Live is a powerful release and Jehnny Beth has delivered a thought-provoking exegesis on modern humankind. Throughout the playlist, there is an inherent tension that makes the release utterly mesmerizing. She never shies away from looking at the gritty underside of human nature, examining the unpleasant, conveying that it is necessary to do this to gain understanding and repair the psyche of humans. Throughout the playlist, she intuitively knows sonically when to step on the gas and when to relent. If your looking for a “good time” summer recording, then keep walking but if you are looking for deeper meaning and understanding To Love is To Live is a record worthy of your consideration.