Postcards from the depths of a suburban wastelandThe interesting thing about Jandek is that more people seem to have read about him than heard his music. In that respect, it makes total sense when Kurt Cobain (even if he was loaded to the eyeballs on smack) gave him his biggest endorsement by claiming that: "Jandek's not pretentious, but only pretentious people like his music." I usually passed over the gushing Jandek reviews in Forced Exposure in favour of those by truly pretentious acts I was into, like Spacemen3 or YoLaTengo. It wasn't until FE maestro Byron Coley wrote a piece on him as one of the '10 most interesting acts of the 80s' in Spin, that my curiosity was truly piqued. He made Jandek's music sound like a scene out of Edgar J. Ulmer's Detour or the climax of an EC mystery comic (which reminds me I gotta pull those old copies of Spin outta storage, they might be worth something to somebody..).
by Aaron Goldberg
I rushed down to my local garage/punk emporium that was the closest place to stock this stuff at the time the late, great, AuGoGo Records and eagerly asked them if they had any "Jandek." The owners laughed at me, telling me it was "unlistenable crap done by a guy who can't even play his guitar." I would not be denied. A year or two later I was a volunteer/shlepper at a local public radio station, where part of my shlepper duties was sorting their endless record library. Lo-and-behold amongst the walls of dreck, I found some Jandek records. I liken my reaction to putting the record on to that scene in the film Brainstorm where the kid jacks into the 'psychotic episode' experience... The song I heard I'll never forget it was 'You Painted Your Teeth,' featuring a guy howling about knives and guns and painting someone's teeth, played with totally spastic sphincter-clench-inducing overloud guitar and violently retarded Oonga-Boonga drums. The song conjured a totally fucked image in my head of some person having a seriously bad PCP trip and painting their teeth with liquid paper. Coley, my rock-crit hero at the time could pick some winners, and some boogers too it seemed.
A few years later, I met a person who actually bought a Jandek CD! It was one of the ones with a colour picture of a house and tree on the cover. In the intervening years between hearing that fucken horrible balagan about teeth painting, there were all these psychically-damaged songwriters coming out writing songs that sounded like they were recorded on a cheap tape recorder, with crude guitars played badly and singers yodelling about crayon therapy and medication and having no friends. There were labels like Drag City and ShimmyDisc and Siltbreeze releasing tons of this stuff, in fact the whole indie-guitar scene of Chicago post-1992 seemed to have been influenced by Jandek in some way, even more so after that guy who endorsed him and bagged his fans left this mortal coil. Subsequently, this Jandek CD with the colour cover, actually didn't sound that bad, in fact compared to 95% of Kim Gordon's entire recorded career, you'd almost think it was Nick Drake!
I'd pretty much lost interest in Jandek until last year, when an acquaintance who I was reviewing Euro-cult DVDs on a radio show for, asked me if I was going to see the Jandek On Corwood documentary was going to screen at the Melbourne International Film Festival. I said to this person: "Have you actually heard Jandek?" But he told me the docco was really good, and it is. Actually the DVD is fucken fantastic, and it demystifies the man as much as you need it to, respectfully presenting the man's massive body of work as a valid and compelling contribution to individualistic American art, and as a result it's hard not to deny Jandek's accidental influence on the fringes of popular culture, especially though the '90's. From the aforementioned lo-fi indie scenes to chic artists/film-makers like Harmony Korine and Crispin Glover, and writers like Sam Brumbaugh, it's hard not to find Jandek's banal other-wordly ghosts in there spookin' them!
So, I must thank the makers of that docco, and Byron Coley's visionary piece on the man all those years ago, and Seth Tisue's website for all the data, and the numerous tapes, CD's, downloads and of course THE 20 CD MIX BOXSET that you can buy directly from the man himself for 80 bucks @ P.O. Box 15375, Houston TX 77220. But firstly...
Some tips when listening to Jandek:
I've divided the reviews into 'periods' as Coley noted in the docco, however, I think there are more than the 'three' thematic and creative periods on closer listen, starting with:
- Be in a reasonably balanced and open-minded mood.
- Don't expect the crunchy guitars or beats yr used to.
- Try to take his music out of the house via a portable Mp3 player or whatever, then return to yr bedsit.
- Don't play it to your girlfriend, and if you do, explain it in pretentious arty terms beforehand.
- Drugs and Jandek may or may not go together too well
1. THE BLUE PERIOD : The artist as master melancholiast
Ready For The House, 1978 (Corwood0739)
Jandek's House My House
My theory is that Jandek might have been influenced by the whole punk DIY thing when he released Ready For The House in 1978, by taking a punk-style name 'The Units' and using that DayGlo/pastel colour artwork which seems to fit in with that whole shtick of the time. Opening track "Naked In the Afternoon" is pretty much the one that sets the precedent for the virgin Jandekian if you can hack this track with no problem, you can pretty much well handle 90% of the man's volumous catalogue. The sonic trademarks are there: the detuned at times death rattle acoustic guitar, the reverby haunted whiny voice, the banal, abstracted and often poetic lyrics. Ready For The House is pretty much a homebrewed white boy-blues album, taking its chops (either purposefully or accidentally) from the Delta Blues via suburban Houston. In fact it's Jandek's inability to play the blues well that makes it so fucking 'authentically' Blues-like, in a sort of John Lee Hooker droney sort of way. Album closer "European Jewel" has Jandek plug in an electric guitar and prove outright that he can play that lazy-hazy Lou Reed style as good as the best of 'em. It also introduces an important Jandek trait the repetition/reinvention of his 'better' (or personal favourite) songs through subsequent albums. MESTERPIECE
Six And Six, 1981 (Corwood0740)
Jandek totally embraces the minimalist 'Blues' thing on Six And Six, from the Robert Johnson homage on the album cover to the springy/droney guitar plucks, but it's his singing on this one that really gets you. Jandek talks/raps into a stoned, thousand yard-stare type reverb soaked drone, that could sound like Jim Morrison if he drank and smoked and took a little bit less acid, or Dylan if he took more. Jandek's vocal performance on "Point Judith" is the total business, he goes for a 10-minute work-out on "I knew you would leave," and "Delinquent Words" is all psychotic menace, the sonic equivalent of Martin Sheen in Badlands. MASTERPIECE un-remastered, (minor) MASTERPIECE remastered. (NOTE: You can only purchase the new 'remastered' version these days, bugger).
Later-On, 1981 (Corwood0741)
Later On finds Jandek start to experiment with his 'sound', and when an artist starts to experiment, it generally means the work is gonna be a bit more 'difficult.' Opener "Your Condition" is pretty much one semi-tuned chord played with down-strokes, Jandek yowling "it's yawwwww connnnnnn-dishun" over and over, with a skin-curdling harmonica note piercing through everything. The album finds Jandek shifting moods in bi-polar frequency, and also finds him starting to attack the guitar rather than play. You can actually hear some of the tracks start to fall apart, offering some sweet respite with the beautiful "Jessica" and "Jackson's Gone Down to the Mississippi," only to fuck it all up with closer "the Second end" that features the plunky, grating sound that will become more prevalent later in Jandek's 'career.' PRETTY GOOD
Chair Beside A Window, 1982 (Corwood0742)
Next time you go to one of Harmony Korine's exhibitions, look at the cover of Chair Beside A Window which was released in 1982 when people were too busy watching ET and Blade Runner and listening to Devo (well I was, anyway!). The album kicks off with another classic haunted track "Down in a Mirror," in which you can hear some weird almost freeform electronic tape hiss (?!) and Jandek's foot stomp, that also seems to have been accidentally fractalized into something greater than its parts by shitty technology. Then everything fucking EXPLODES and IMPLODES in Dylan-Live-1966-bootleg-proportions on "European Jewel," featuring the funniest Rick Danko-meets-Mingus bass impersonation ever put onto tape! Jandek's guitar playing is getting choppier and more manic on this record until the freak-folk classic, "Nancy Sings," comes out of fucking nowhere for no reason causing time to momentarily stop - amazing what a woman's touch can do! The rest of the album noodles around aimlessly for a bit, but is no less 'exploratory,' with some nice, frustrated steel-string buzz/drone on trax like "Blue Blister" (speaks for itself really). It's interesting to note that despite the record being the most 'fractured' of his albums so far, Jandek's tapping foot is heard on nearly all tracks, proving there is some method to the meshigarse! VERY GOOD. ("Nancy Sings" & "European Jewel," MASTERPIECES)
2. THE BROWN PERIOD: The artist experiments with 'sound' and 'style', albeit everything sounding rusty, scungy and dare I say it, 'shitty'
Living In A Moon So Blue, 1982 (Corwood0743)
This is where Jandek's stuff gets really 'difficult' and damaged. His patience and guitar playing seems to have gone down the toilet. Lots of pissed-off down strokes, tracks that build into blister-inducing dirges and just some seriously fucked up mess all around. The album feels like a series of sketches that Jandek just bashed out quite quickly a throwaway really. 'Professional' definitely shows that Jandek has a healthy anti-authoritarian attitude, but 'relief of the night' is a bit of a worry. MULCH
Staring At The Cellophane, 1982 (Corwood0744)
The downward spiral continues with Staring At The Cellophane. Maybe Jandek was deconstructing his work in order to take his next artistic step. This record is almost a better torture device than System of a fucking Down. Some people could find the artistic merit in 'Basic themes' in the same way they could find artistic merit in dried dog turds, or Andreas Serrano. Good luck to 'em. SHIT
Your Turn To Fall, 1983 (Corwood0745)
If there's some good news on this rec, it might be that it's the second to feature a colour album sleeve, even if it only depicts a desk, guitar case and couch. It's interesting to note such banal items fit in PERFECTLY with Jandek's suburban-blues aesthetic. Record kicks off with his hard-to-take steel-string plucking on "Liquids flow to the sea." Jandek hums for a bit before his haunted vocals howl out of tune for about 50% of the time. 'John plays drums' is apparently the first appearance of another musician on a Jandek record, though it sounds almost the same type of playing on "European Jewel." I can only take about 20 seconds of the retarded, over-loud, un-rhythmic drumming on this track that sounds exactly like when you give a person with no musical talent, let alone rhythm, some sticks and a kit, and they just hit anything that makes the loudest noise like cymbals and snare. Jandek strums the shit of out his steel string acoustic guitar making an even louder clang to top things off. The few tracks after that go back to Jandek's standard emo-blues perfected on Six&Six. "Echo" has that weird otherworldly vibe and hiss about it, and "Dance of Death" features a really nice vocal performance. When Jandek sings well, he's pretty darn good in an Alan Vega echoey sort of way. Chan Marshall would perfect and 'harmonize' his vocal style for shiny-happy audiences some years later. OK
The Rocks Crumble, 1983 (Corwood0746)
You could call this Jandek's 'covers album', as half of the tracks on this are covers of his previous work. Jandek preceded that wanky post-modern thing of bands covering or 'reinterpreting' or 're-imagining' their own stuff, or maybe it was that Jandek ran out of songs at the time? "Faceless" kicks off proceedings, building into a one-chord-and-then-forgetting-how-to-play-it mess. "Birthday" rates as a Jandek classic (it's a cover of "Nancy Sings," that's why!), and there's a weird tape hiss on it that makes it even eerier. It's interesting to note that a lot of his recordings during the experimental 'Brown period' seem to have been made at different times, so you get quite extreme stylistic and performance jumps from track to track. "European Jewel" gets three re-workings on the one record with "European Jewel 501" being the most rockingest, maybe Jandek named it after his favorite rock, n' roll jeans? 'Rock' seems to be the operative word on this rec, and Jandek writes his closest thing to an anthem, "Message to the clerk," with the unforgettable lines: "Send a message to the clerk/tell him not to work!" Remember this is 'rock' on Jandek's terms, not yours or mine or anyone else on the planet for that matter. PRETTY GOOD
3. THE PURPLE PERIOD: The artist discovers a new experimental palette, and new emotions
Interstellar Discussion, 1984 (Corwood0747)
Colour album cover. Party starts off with Jandek in primal-energy mode, replete with oonga-boonga drums, his choppy electric guitar and howls - it almost sounds like Bo Diddley. The first half of the album features more of a 'band' set-up than those proceeding. "Waltz in two-forths time" and "call you the sun" feature harmonica. The first half of this album has a very manic, ferocious, free-form, electrified style that reminds me of some of Sun Ra's more 'out-there' stuff, in fact I'd redub the first half of Intestellar Discussion, "Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy." Then, from "The Spirit" the mood changes back to Jandek's trademark ghostly solo style. "Rifle in the closet" and "May 7, 9:15am" features Jandek's chaos-theory plunky-picking style that would feature predominately later in his career. "Kick" is pure junky, beat-poety in the finest Lou Reed style, sung over a tasteful and atmospheric one note pick a classic. MINOR MASTERPIECE
Nine-Thirty, 1985 (Corwood0748)
Jandek return to his lazy-solo-acoustic blues style on Nine-Thirty though he might have been listening to more Dylan stuff around this time (or Tom Petty as he said in his legendary interview from around this time). "Wrong Time" sounds like Jandek trying to play "Hurricane"! "Voices in the dark" and "This is a death dream" are two of his most bone-chilling, psychologically frightening tracks. Album closer "Oh Jenny" is more sorrowful, suburban blues that ends abruptly like a Monte Hellman movie. VERY GOOD
Foreign Keys, 1985 (Corwood0749)
"Spanish in me" shows Jandek's desire to align himself with Picasso or the surrealists or maybe Julio Iglesias. It's one of Jandek's catchier numbers, despite the clang in the background. "Coming quiet" finds Jandek trying to do some sort of surf/noir instrumental, before losing patience and making the whole thing fall into a frustrated heap. Guest vocalist Nancy returns with her female touch. She sounds more 'assertive' or angry on this album, almost like Cher singing "Halfbreed" or something. She gets ethereal, and almost operatic on "Oh No." "Ballad of Robert" is one of the most unglamorous, accurate and realistic odes to serious mental-illness ever committed to record, or Jandek's just taking the piss and ripping off the Beatles' "Helter Skelter" in his own inimitable style. VERY GOOD.
Telegraph Melts, 1986 (Corwood0750)
This was the first Jandek album I actually 'heard' after reading about him for so long. Not a good place to start. Listening to it now, and being a fan, I can appreciate it, but it's still very difficult listening for 98% of the world, unless yr Byron Coley or Thurston Moore. Regardless, "No slow ones" features Nancy in her best Eartha Kitt mode, while "Telegraph Melts" has Nancy and an almost in tune harmonica! "Governor Rhodes" sounds like some weird hippy love-in crap, with Nancy and what sounds like Jandek or a guy he met down at the pub, going on about peace and love. Likewise "Mothers Day card" features Jandek and some other bloke in what sounds like a drunken duet. "You painted your teeth" remains an utterly LSD/PCP damaged horror movie nightmare, and "The Fly" might just be something the Cramps woulda done on that legendary road-trip from Ohio. It's interesting to note that in Jandek's 'legendary' interview with John Trubee from 1985, he refused to answer the question about who his extra 'musicians' were. There are many theories, but I have a feeling the main reason being legal, because he prolly met these people at the pub or half-way house, but never told them he'd release their recordings! SO-SO
Follow Your Footsteps, 1986 (Corwood0751)
The opening chords of "Honey" represent a kinder, gentler Jandek. The jangly, tuneful chords almost sounding like an English C86 indie band before the drums come in and drown out EVERYTHING, then peter out, and back to some more melodic noodling and what sounds like Jandek trying to learn a guitar scale nice. "What do you want to sing" and "Jaws of murmur" are basically two takes of Jandek attempting to play Neil Young's "Down by the river." "Preacher" is superior space-freak-folk, with Jandek's ennui echo-vocals working perfectly. "I know you well" is sublime, space-folk, a-la Neil Young's "On the Beach." From "Straight Thirty seconds" (which actually goes for 2:41), you've basically got Jandek going back into some electric guitar/drum experimenting with is otherworldly bong-bong drums adding nice ambience, before the album falls into a heap by the end. Still, this album points to the beginning of Jandek perfecting a more 'melodic' and 'cohesive' type of space-blues-folk that can easily appeal to 'indie' or 'pop' ears. MINOR MASTERPIECE
Modern Dances, 1987 (Corwood0752)
Not to be confused with the Pere Ubu album The Modern Dance. Jandek tries out different versions of his psycho-classic "Painted my teeth." Here he duets with Nancy in what sounds like one of those Rowland S Howard/Lydia Lunch junky-goth duets. Nancy appears on a lot of tracks here, the two of them yelling and hollering and each other, especially on the clanging opus "I want to know why" in which Nancy and Jandek keep asking each other 'why'? Then its back to one-man mope-mode to balance things out for the last three tracks, where it seems, from the tone of songs, that Nancy might have just gone up and left PRETTY GOOD
Blue Corpse, 1987 (Corwood0753)
Theory has it that Nancy left Jandek for good and this record was the painful result of that, his 'breakup' album. Also, apparently the singer on the first three songs isn't Jandek, but his mate Bob from the pub. I still think it's Jandek - it's the out-of-tune yodel that gives it away. "Your other man" finds Jandek doing his finest Dylan impersonation, it's another Jandek classic. "Harmonica" is five minutes of just that, albeit 'exploratory.' "Only lover" is ten minutes of echoey-vocals over Jandek on acoustic guitar, improvising whatever's in his head at the time, it's as good as anything by Skip Spence. MINOR MASTERPIECE
4. THE BOOGIE PERIOD: where the artist gets it all together (and some may say sells out!)
You Walk Alone, 1988 (Corwood0754)
From the beautiful Velvetsy opening chords of "Lavender," it seems that Jandek has turned yet another creative corner on You Walk Alone. The oonga-boonga drums are still there, but the electric guitar playing has improved somewhat, and there's another player onboard 'beefing' up the sound with reasonably skillful licks and lead runs. In fact some of the garage/lounge room jams on this record are nearly as good as the Reed/Morrison combo in their prime! Try extended workouts on "Time and space," "the cat walked from Shelbyville" and "When the telephone melts" for fine examples of Jandek's idiosyncratic space-blues working in full effect. In hindsight this ranks as one of the finer indie records of the '80's full-stop, and it's not marred by the shitty gated-drum sound of that that period either! MASTERPIECE
On The Way, 1988 (Corwood0755)
Jandek follows up the technical ground made on You Walk Alone with the quasi-experimental (bit of an oxymoron since his whole ouvre is made up of quasi-experimental-improvisations), On The Way. Album opener finds Jandek experimenting in the studio panning the lyrics hard left and instruments hard right. He'd obviously been listening to the Beatles or Steve Lilywhite or Steve Albini to get such ground-breakingly radical engineering chops down-pat. But without being snide, credit must be given to Jandek's lo-fi engineering prowess vocals are always creatively mixed bathed in layers of reverb, and his guitar sound is pretty much well defined and clear, despite the shortcomings of his devolved playing style. ANYWAY, Jandek's rock 'anthem', "Message to the Clerk," gets the Sonny Terry/Brownie McGee treatment here on one of the most 'conventional' and passionate performances of his career. The brews and other substances seems to be kicking in nicely, and heck you even get a nifty guitar solo that Keith Richards might pull off! Members of Jandek's anonymous musical 'collective' from either the local pub, Church group or Rotary Club seem to have returned, as the person I call 'Jeff' makes a somewhat drunken and rambling guest vocal on 'Sadie'. The last three tracks find Jandek in quite an introspective, mellow mood. 'I sit alone and think about you' is eight and a half minutes of beautiful acid folk, 17 years before it became the trendy-indie-genre-of-the-year. Album closer 'I'm ready' makes primo-stoner-acoustic Neil Young sound truly found. 17 albums in, and Jandek is well and truly finding his mojo. Whether accidental or on purpose, that's genius by any motherfucker's standards. MASTERPIECE
The Living End, 1989 (Corwood0756)
Every 'important' rock artist, it seems, makes their 'iconic' 'image' album (or at least an iconic album cover.) From Dylan on Highway 61 Revisted to Richard Hell on Blank Generation to Handsome Dick Manitoba on the Dictators go Girl Crazy to Nick Cave on From her to eternity... you get the picture. On The Living End, you get JANDEK. The 'image' that got on Spin and probably launched the careers of a thousand bedroom minstrels around the world (or at least 5 from Chicago or Berkley). The Living End gives you pure and undistilled Jandek - the man, in genuine 'anti hero' mode - giving you either a totally uncertain or a 'what the fuck do you want, motherfucker?' type look. It's a modern anti-pop gulcha classic, with the shot taken with a beautiful Milan Kudelka B&W 'naturalist' style fuckin' pin-it up in the MOMA, you snobby art wimps! The first five songs on the album are basically Jandek and friend learning how to jam the blues, the same way you probably did with a MelBay book when you were 15. Track six,"Talk that Talk" finds Jandek's hired-gun guitarist really fanging it, on some bitchin' electrified blues that would give the Blues Explosion a run for their drachmas. "Start the band" sounds like the chords from the Stones "Sister Morphine" and then Nancy rocks up for some nice and totally pleasant doodling and humming on "Girl from America." "Take me away" is seven minutes of Nancy's somewhat stoned, 'ooing and ahhh'ing' before album closer "Crazy" finds our dymanic duo back to their old fractured and cracked sonic tricks, the type of music you make when its 42oC outside and you've had way too much beer and pot and crank (actually that's what Telegraph Melts sounds like!) What a way to end the '80's! MASTERPIECE
Somebody In The Snow, 1990 (Corwood0757)
Jandek ushers in a new decade with the suave and sinister Somebody In The Snow. The album cover shows our hero aged slightly and looking like he's auditioning to become a member of the Bad Seeds or something. The 'Boogie Period' continues, though on this album he's gone for a more psychedelic, yet earthy vibe ala the Stones Let it Bleed. It seems that Nancy's back, though Seth Tisue reckons it's a new singer, and since there's no real knowledge of the actual chronology of Jandek's recordings, I reckon it's Nancy recorded at a later period in time. The opening three tracks find Nancy taking sole vocal duties, then there's a quite amateurishly lovely instrumental "Pastimes" before things just go ..MENTAL..."Om" is an experimental and well executed Acapella that could be straight off Tim Buckely's Starsailor. "Bring it in a manger" finds Jandek playing a seriously out-there piano-accordion. "Sense of reason" finds our man playing one chord and using stereo vocals to interesting effect. The rest of the album deteriorates into more hard-listening. Nervy playing coupled with Jandek's experimenting with stereo vocals makes it a challenging and often jarring experience but with enough going on to make it a MINOR MASTERPIECE.
One Foot In The North, 1991 (Corwood0758)
This album sounds like a bit of a pastiche of out-takes and recordings from his BLUE and PURPLE periods with a bit of BOOGIE thrown in for good measure. "Yellow Pages" could be straight off Ready For The House, but it's also a Jandek classic. "Alehouse Blues" is fine, Stonesy type blues complete with maracas or egg-shakers, "Upon the Granduer" lives up to it's title eight and a half minutes of beautiful panoramic balladry, oozing atmosphere, another Jandek classic. "Dreaming Man" could be a great song on a David Lynch movie soundtrack. MINOR MASTERPIECE
Lost Cause, 1992 (Corwod0759)
The last chapter in Jandek's BOOGIE period finds our man mucking around a bit and giving us a primer for his upcoming work. "Babe I love you" is a cute, hooky little number that could even be hit (or a college/indie hit). "Crack a smile" finds our man playing pretty competent, mellow strummy guitar, and does his best Tim Buckley impersonation, with some of the results being pretty hilarious. Then things start to change. It seems that Jandek purchased some new recording equipment as well as a new out-of-tune steel string guitar. "God came between me and you" and "I love you now it's true" finds Jandek looking for God or Jesus or some sort of religious help but eventually becoming the Lost Cause of the title. Album closer "The Electric End" is Jandek's version of "L.A. Blues" or "Journey through the outer darkness" or Coltrane's OM. Nineteen minutes of atonal, psychotic BLARE featuring noise, crash, howl, one of those bird whistles and someone trying to make that weird sound that the 13th Floor Elevators did on "You're Gonna Miss Me." After 4 minutes, I get a piercing migrane. PRETTY GOOD
5. THE POSTCARDS FROM THE DEPTHS OF A SUBRBAN WASTELAND PERIOD (or the 'digital age')
Twelfth Apostle, 1993 (Corwood0760)
The beginning of yet another new creative period finds Jandek embracing digital technology: it was the last LP (as well as the last LP to be reissued on CD). It also represented the first time I saw his albums available in stores, with these 'Suburban Snapshot' albums being available for sale at the uber-hip Greville Records here in Melbourne. Finally, most of the album covers are in colour and feature snapshots of a house, as if Jandek has taken a holiday from his bedroom to the house next door! Twelfth Apostle was the first record I heard proper after that horrible experience at the public radio station. On first impression the record was way more mellow than the stuff on Telegraph Melts but no less atonal. I'd heard the Godz and the Fugz, so hearing Twelfth Apostle wasn't too traumatic by that stage. In fact it instantly reminded me of that Drag City and lo-fi stuff that was coming out at the time. But in many ways the 'Digital Age' finds Jandek asserting himself as a bona-fide master of the white-boy-lounge-room-Suburban Blues at that point in time. No one sounded like him, had been as prolific as him, nor had created a body of work as unique as him. But the zeitgeist at the time was no doubt squeezing forth artists that had to have heard or admired his chutzpah of the whole Corwood Production line, and were taking notice, enter: Beck, Royal Trux, Palace Music, Cat Power, Smog etc etc. Twelfth Apostle finds Jandek solo once again implementing a clearer sounding, yet no less fractured playing style reminiscent of his early albums, but using more scratch/plucking than the usual arrhythmic strums. "Could be anyone" finds Jandek introducing a slight echo/delay on the guitar sound to complement the reverb on his voice, it's got that same sense of aimless menace that "Delinquent words" from Six And Six has. "Whiskers" features Jandek cucking around with a slide, but you know, it actually sounds like 'whisker' if that makes sense?@! VERY GOOD.
Graven Image, 1994 (Corwood0761)
Jandek's tales of suburban claustrophobia and banal situations continue on Graven Image. He obviously seems older, more introspective and existential if there's an operative word, and his lyrics have that sort of simple yet poetically suggestive tone that wouldn't be far from the literary work of say Raymond Carver. "Ghost town by the sea" is another instant Jandek classic. "Janky" finds him playing with his persona and a really retarded harmonica. "Going away my darling" finds our man almost getting a Mississippi Blues sound almost, but not quite. PRETTY AVERAGE
Glad To Get Away, 1994 (Corwood0762)
For the anally retentive (which happens to be part of the psychological profile of the typical Jandek fan), Glad To Get Away represents a slight change in packaging. The information card is slightly thicker, and the type of font is better than the cheap Windows95 fonts on the other discs. Also, the CD seems to have been pressed in Canada, not Texas. OK, bullshit. Glad To Get Away opens with some plunking in what sounds like Jandek attempting to learn some Appalachian banjo picking. It doesn't get far before he delivers one of his most outrageous lines, the horror movie: "Hey mister can you tell me, is there a knife stuck in your face?" delivered in a purely absurdist style that fits perfectly with the general absurdist feel of this record. Out of tune Appalachian banjo-picking and scratch strumming are the order of the day in Glad To Get Away and will represent the bulk of Jandek's acoustic guitar playing style to this day. Travel seems to be on the agenda here as Jandek tells us about "Rain in Madison" and the "Van Ness Mission" which is drowned in echo, and makes his detuned strumming sound kinda rubbery. Amidst single note plunking he tells us that "Nancy Knows," but what exactly she knows, we may never know. PRETTY AVERAGE.
White Box Requiem, 1996 (Corwood0763)
For starters this is another of Jandek's 'iconic' album covers. Looking something like the cover of Blonde on Blonde but with Brian Jones, Jandek is sporting some mean mutton-chops, and looks like a wicked '60's garage rocker (shit, he even looks cooler than half of those nu-garage poonces that are all the rage these days!) Jandek went on a slight hiatus in the mid-'90's with two years passing between this and his last release. The album is drenched in echo on the guitar, but not so it sounds rubbery. The mood is kinda lethargic, and very introspective. In fact, I'd call White Box Requiem the closest Jandek's come to a concept album, with doubt and mortality being the major themes and the white box representing what I think is a coffin. Songs have a sub-conscious quality about them, most of them are short and end abruptly, it takes about three or four listens before it really kicks in, and I'd advise listening with a portable device. "Second thoughts" is a killer, "Thinking," sublime. The album feels like something Roy Harper woulda done if he took a lot, lot more acid, and ranks as Jandek's best album of the '90's. MASTERPIECE
I Woke Up, 1997 (Corwood0764)
If any record represents the 'Postcards from the depths of a suburban wasteland' period, then I Woke Up is it. Album cover features a rotten share-house couch and a log. Obviously Jandek was trying to tap into the psyches of his hipster audience with the "Twin Peaks" reference. It seems that there is a guest vocalist on the album, some 'bloke' with a deadpan voice who could be an institutionalized beatnik, or maybe Thurston Moore. There's lots of jagged harmonica and that annoying piano-accordion. Delayed guitars, more bizarre deadpan vocals by 'the bloke.' "Pending doom" sounds like some beatnik lark the Fugs woulda done. This album is the inbred nuclear-wastedump offspring of Intestellar Discussion and Telgraph Melts. It so fucked up as to be ridiculous, but it's no without its exclusively Jandekian charms. PRETTY AVERAGE.
New Town, 1998 (Corwood0765)
Interesting to note the amount of ambient hiss on this record compared to most of his '90's output. While there really isn't anything new going on here, there are some nice moments, especially "New Town," which finds Jandek in a tender, contemplative mood for a change. PRETTY AVERAGE
The Beginning, 1999 (Corwood0766)
Jandek ends the millennium with... The Beginning. A fine return to the 'pure' Jandek sounds of Six&Six, the production is murky, vocals thick with reverb and the guitars plunk and strut along in a bluesy swagger. Again Jandek covers himself with the six minute "A dozen drops" reworking "Nancy Sings" which would be reworked as "John Plays Drums" that was reworked as "Birthday" and reaches its logical end on... THE BEGINNING. Genius at work, eh? But the biggest farewell to the 21st Century comes with his reality-twisting-Black Hole that is the title track. A fifteen minute dirge on a new instrument - the piano - that sounds like the first thrill you got when you played a piano as a kid and you thought you could play flashy all over the keyboard like Johnny Johnson or Jerry Lee Lewis or Liberace. Jandek actually plays the piano with the same manic gusto that he plays guitar, occasionally bashing it, occasionally finding moments of beauty. It reminds me a bit of SunRa's playing on "Gods on Safari," or some of that weird shit John Cage did with pianos. MINOR MASTERPIECE
The new millennium has seen an incredible burst of creative activity from Jandek with no less than 14 albums in five years!! It seems once again Jandek has improved his recording technology, it's reasonably evident that he is using a computer and the non-linear-editing tools that come with it. From Jandek's low-budget aesthetic I figure he's a PC, not Mac man, sorry sweeties. The use of the new technology has brought a 'clarity' and 'immediacy' to the sound, reminding me of the late '80's-early '90's when old-timers-scuzzers like Lou Reed, Bob Dylan and Neil Young released albums (New York, Oh Mercy and Freedom) almost simultaneously that ushered in a new gentrified 'digital' sound. From here on there's no more of the lo-fi hiss, murk, echo and scuzz, instead a 'cleaner' more immediate, and to some degree, painful and difficult sound. It's also interesting to note that Jandek's voice sounds a lot older in the post-2000 recordings than from any recordings in his whole catalogue, meaning that for the first time he's working in what seems to be a chronological manner. Regardless, his stature as a progressive and experimental artist remains undiminished in the slightest, as his experiments have become weirder and no less compelling. His lyrics have become more existential/spiritual and 'naturalistic,' almost Bukowskian in their needs, longing, bitterness and sadness, proving that the game won't be over 'til the final siren sounds...
6. ACAPELLA or ABSATRACT EXPRESSIONIST PERIOD
Put My Dream On This Planet, 2000 (Corwood0767)
This Narrow Road, 2001 (Corwood0768)
Worthless Recluse, 2001 (Corwood0769)
So the new millennium kicks in. Every wanker-slacker you knew becomes an Internet millionaire for 3 months and Jandek goes Acapella! The artwork on Put My Dream On This Planet is probably Jandek's most abstracted and bold statement a blurred, dark, obscure photo of 'the artist.' Yep, Jandek is going through his abstract expressionist stage. Sure it's acapella, though it seems that Jandek has edited chunks of vocals in a Burroughsian lyrical cut-up style. It's hard listening, considering there's only 3 tracks and two of them go for over 20 minutes. But the most interesting thing to note is the fact that the voice has changed. Obviously there was a long break in recording maybe for the whole '90's? but here Jandek sounds like a guy who's at least in his late '40's, compared to the 20-30 something that appeared on nearly all his previous recordings. This Narrow Road continues the cut-up vocal trend, the pieces are shorter, and come off more like vocal ballads or as stated on the Forced Exposure website, some sort of 21st Century 'Out Blues.' Worthless Recluse does away with any tunefulness and goes for straight ahead spoken word inter-galactic beat poetry, a perfect sonic distillation of Burroughs' aforementioned cut-up techniques. Why this hasn't been taken more seriously by the spoken-words/poetry scene as a major work is a travesty of the highest order. Dream PRETTY GOOD, This Narrow Road GOOD, Worthless Recluse- VERY GOOD
7. THE PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS ANGRY MAN PERIOD
I Threw You Away, 2002 (Corwood0770)
The death rattle guitar from Ready For The House kicks-off proceedings for about 40 seconds, before Jandek tells us : "Let me tell you about my blues/My blues have turned black/Black, black, black, black," and then starts to HOOOOWWWWLLL and MOOOOAAANNNN lyrics about loss, death and any other negativity. Tracks are long with none under 7 minutes that frequently blur into long dirges. The album title speaks for itself, and you might just do the same to it. The mystery of Jandek deepens - the album cover shows a European road (discovered to be Cork, Ireland) with a church at the end of it. At least we know the guy travels a bit further than the house across the road, and is a believer of some sort (more genius: there are no identifying 'religious' symbols on the distant shrine). BELOW AVERAGE
The Humility Of Pain, 2002 (Corwood0771)
At least it has a beautiful photo on the cover, proving that Jandek is a fine photographer, and could probably get a show in New York City to much acclaim compared to the dreck the art-mafia over there hustle. This album continues from "I threw you away." Not much new going on here, though Jandek is starting to sound like really drunk hobo. PRETTY CRAP
The Place, 2003 (Corwood0772)
The album cover reminds me of the movie Peeping Tom for some reason, it's the colours and subject matter that makes it feel all so nisht. The shot was obviously taken on Jandek's Irish holiday. Anyway, I don't mind this record, it's another concept album. Jandek introduces a bit of harmonica and experiments with his vocals which at times sound 'sultry' in the way an old-homosexual-lush would sound trying to crack onto you at a dingy old punk bar. Then, he tries to sound like some sort of Irishman. Highlights are "The Highway" with its chilling psycho-noir ambience, and "the Answer" which has a middle 8.6675432321 that sounds like early, damaged Sonic Youth. PRETTY GOOD
8. THE JAZZ PERIOD
The Gone Wait, 2003 (Corwood0773)
Another musical chapter begin, as Jandek pust down the guitar and picks up a bass. It's always interesting to note that each new instrument Jandek picks up sounds like not only is he playing it for the first time, but more importantly, discovering the SONIC POSSIBILITIES of the instrument in a totally fresh light. The bass playing here is totally detuned, and sounds like it's probably a fretless electric. It might sound like Mingus, and it might sound like Fernando Saunders if he wasn't so... happy. Jandek plunks the bass much like he does the guitar, often playing double notes, but not in the way Peter Hook does it. He moans, though in a more sedate manner, giving the record a very downbeat, narcotic jazz feel. AVERAGE
Shadow Of Leaves, 2004 (Corwood0774)
The album cover has a photo of Jandek looking like some early '70's English folk singer, though Jandekologists have proven that it's actually a Photoshop cut-up job!! SCANDALOUS! Comprising of only 3 tracks, opening number "the shadow of leaves" is a 29 minute opus of sloth like proportions as his bass waddles along aimlessly with the vocals. Closer "I give you me" has Jandek momentarily trying to pop the strings like Doug Wimbish, before he delivers those sort of 'you're a loser and I'm going to fuck with your head' type lyrics that Lydia Lunch and Henry Rollins made careers out of. AVERAGE
The End Of It All, 2004 (Corwood0775)
I'm not sure if these next few albums were made before he performed live, if so, then they are perfect primers for the power and intensity his subsequent live shows would display. Jandek straps on the guitar again - this time an electric with a flange effect - making him sound like James Blood Ulmer, or maybe the guy from the Police. Another 20-minute opus, "One of those moments" goes into serious SonicYouth territory and is his best musical moment for nearly 4 years. His singing has more conviction, with the lyrics sounding like the memoirs of a corporate-nobody (ghost?) trying to connect with other 'humans' on some sort of intimate level. The album as a whole 'rocks' more. PRETTY GOOD
The Door Behind, 2004 (Corwood0776)
Hilarious album cover, featuring Jandek doing his best Cat Stevens pre-Yusuf Islam impersonation. Electric flange-guitar is still the sonic cause of events, songs are shorter and more sedate than the End of it All, making it a bit of a more difficult listen. SO-SO
A Kingdom He Likes, 2004 (Corwood0777)
2004 was a big year for our man. A Kingdom He Likes was his fourth album for the year, and he performed live for the first time ever at the Instal Avant-rock festival in Scotland. In many ways Jandek had well and truly ARRIVED! A Kingdom He Likes finds Jandek reflecting on his 'fame' and thinking long and hard about the 'modern world' even technology on "It rang eleven times." He looks remarkably like Will Oldham on the album cover, and also looks a little emaciated (like a junkie perhaps?) But we'll never know. PRETTY GOOD
When I Took That Train, 2005 (Corwood0778)
Another great shot from Jandek's Irish holiday featuring him walking down the street looking like somebody out of Midnight Cowboy. But the album's a throwaway. CRAP
Glasgow Sunday, 2005 (Corwood0779)
Of course, like all great artists they eventually gotta do the live album. Glasgow Sunday was recorded live last year and featured noted UK avant-jazz musicians Richard Youngs on bass and Alexander Neilson on drums. An amorphous surging, coagulating blob of a live performance, Jandek's electrified death-rattle guitar is immediately reminiscent of Rowland S Howard's playing on some of those live Birthday Party or that riot-grrl super group Harry Crews. But fortunate for Jandek, is the fact that he has a totally cooking backing-band help elevate his sound above junkie skronk (which it still is, mind you) into some sort of free-jazz-rock-implosion with lyrics, ala Last Exit. "Not even water" clangs and skips along, as do most of the other tracks, though "Sea of Red" is all sinister creepy-crawlies. The absolute highlight of the set though, is "Real Wild." The track builds and builds and builds in Jandek's water-treading death-knell-guitar style, before he pauses to tell us: "I made a decision... to get REAL WILD!' before collapsing in on itself like a Black Hole. Who said he can't rock out like the best of them? Glasgow Sunday is a great, great live, real time document of the improvised miasma of Jandek, distilled and purified for his legions of fans to enjoy. MASTERPIECE
Raining Down Diamonds, 2005 (Corwood0780)
If Jandek was looking like Cat Stevens on the Door Behind, here he's going for the Yusaf Islam look. Who knows, maybe Jandek is making some obscure statement about Islamic fundamentalism or something? He's back to playing his muted-free-form bass again, though here his voice sounds neurotic, fearful and terrified. He's actually trying to play the bass more, rather than just slap and scratch it, so the overall sonics of the album are far warmer than previous bass-only records. It's easily his best 'bass' album, and his jazziest to boot. Maybe he learnt a few licks off Richard Youngs? Extended closing tracks "New Rendezvous" and "Your visitor" throb and undulate into infinity, ending perfectly with a whimper. MINOR MASTERPIECE
Jandek Live, Sage Gateshead UK, 22 May 2005 (bootleg)
It's great that bootlegs like this exist, especially for folk like me who like 20,000,000,000 miles from where all the action happens and are probably unlikely to see him play live (though at the rate he's going, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if Jandek is brought to Australia for the 'what is music' Festival). This performace is as good, if not better than the Instal/Glasgow Sunday one. It opens with 3 minutes of Cage-ian silence, before we get a dubby-echo noise of Jandek plugging in his guitar sounding like something Walter Murch did on the Apocalypse Now soundtrack. Then, out of nowhere, there's a flange-guitar strum, noodle jazz bass and free-flowing drums, sounding not unlike the Jimi Hendrix Experience on qualuudes. But there's definitely a 'funk' going on in this set, before Jandek opens his mouth and says "I thought I'd give you... a little bit of DEPRESSION!!!!" That's right, the man has made a fucken anthem for the Prozac-nation. The mind boggles! At first, I thought "whoah!!" he's topped himself for negative nihilism, but then I thought, nah, he's just ripping off Jimi Hendrix's "Manic Depression." The set continues a downward looping spiral lyrics-wise as Jandek sings about the electric chair, trying to find friends, and being a loser-in-life in general. But the synergy between the players here is even better than Glasgow Sunday producing some of the most intense, challenging and incredibly FRESH avant-garde music going today. And for a guy that's been doing it off his own bat for 27 years, the deep dark hole that he's been digging seems to finally be bringing up the blackest of gold. MASTERPIECE
ED NOTE: The parade of Jandek releases considers as Seth Tisue notes, there's a Corwood 0781 out now, called Khartoum
See the rest of the Jandek tribute
Main Jandek page Jandek live in Austin review Jandek live in NYC review Interview with Loren Connors about Jandek
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