Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Jandek, I

(One thing I forgot to mention in my intro yesterday is that I'm going to post the catalogue numbers of each album as we go, just so you, my twelve readers, have some gauge of where each album comes in the chronology. And with that....)

Jandek- Ready For The House (Corwood 739)

The first Jandek record, originally released under the name ‘The Units’ until a band that had already used the name put the kibosh on that moniker (can you imagine being in the original The Units and having to deal with the fact that you stole Jandek’s original name and managed to become/remain more obscure than the man himself? Damn!)

Here’s how we begin: lots of sorta mumbled/whispered vocals (with the odd Pete Brady puberty crack) that manage to sound both sensitive and creepy over mostly acoustic guitar (though the last song, European Jewel, features some guitar that sounds to be electric with reverb.) Jandek’s guitar playing is really interesting- it sounds like it’s completely random, with the exact wrong notes picked over and over, until you realize that there’s some low notes acting as a bassline, keeping time. And then every now and again there’s a flub, a break that sounds like a fuckup. Something about the playing, though, makes it feel as if the flubs are very much intentional, but maybe I’m reading into it. Like on ‘Naked In The Afternoon’, where Jandek sounds like he’s gonna stop playing, coughs, and then tacks on another verse- intentionally obtuse or improv? Both? Neither? Jesus.

The words ‘somebody in the snow’ are mentioned in the lyrics of one song- the phrase will become the album title for Corwood #757 years later.

Sample lyric: “I’ve got a vision of a teenage daughter who’s growing up naked in the afternoon.”

Jandek- Chair Beside A Window (Corwood 742)

Album #4 in the Jandek chronology.

So, the cover of ‘Chair Beside A Window’ features- you guessed it!- a prototypically grainy photo of the man himself looking sullen and young. At least one of the Jandek mysteries has been solved- the gentleman who turned up at the much ballyhooed live show in Glasgow last year was the guy on all the album covers.

There’s a bunch of sorta meandering songs that feature the same basic characteristics found on ‘House’: picked notes with a bassline that make you question the relative in/profiency of the playing, accompanied by singing/mumbling. Having said that, though, there is a little deviation. For one, several songs feature vocals that aren’t so quiet- more of a yowl than anything, a vocal style that gets used on later albums. A few songs feature more than one instrument player, like the harmonica on ‘You Don’t Know How To Score,’ along with vocals that are best described as outright yelling. Hell, there’s even some drums to be found, which sound kinda like an arythmic Mo Tucker.

And then there’s Nancy.

The object of much speculation (and adoration, at least in the Jandek fanboy circles- the apple of our enigma’s eye), Nancy shows up on later albums, as well. She arrives after three and a half albums of this weird shit and sings beautifully, a direct counterpoint to the bizarre, foreign niche Jandek has been carving out like a man tunneling out of prison with a spoon. Her arrival and subsequent appearances signify that there’s at least a little light in the dark space the music skulks around in. Until she disappears, anyway, but that’s a story for another review.

Sample lyric: “All I am is a fool but I ain’t gonna fool no one.”

Living In A Moon So Blue (Corwood 743)

A bunch of short songs- fragmented and haiku-like. The instrumentals remind me of the later stuff, particularly the songs on ‘White Box Requiem’, one of my favorites, where there are a lot of single picked note instrumentals. Strings are bent, and Jandek plays to something- is he tapping out time on his guitar, is it his foot, or is that a metronome he’s playing along to? Hints of musicianship can be found in the harmonica- more traditionally bluesy than any of the other records reviewed thus far.

If you read Jandek criticism, you’ll find mentions of how creepy his music is (hell, even I’ve already mentioned the creepiness). This album is a prime example- the back-to-back ‘Apple Orchard’ and ‘She Fell Down’ tandem allude to a childhood of pain.

Sample lyric: “Here’s looking at you, kid- you’ve got the German Measles.”

Interstellar Discussion (747)

One of the albums that is generally pointed to as a touchstone of the catalogue. I’ll buy it- a good deal of this album is a giant fucking racket, drenched with tribal yowling, drums, treble-y electric guitar and harmonica. The vocals have a hell of a lot of echo, too, which makes things sounds pretty creepy, especially on ‘I Ain’t Got None,’ which features either two vocalists or (just as likely) Jandek double-tracking, laying down his primary, hysterical vocals first, then adding the moaning in the background.

I’m tempted to compare this stuff to Sonic Youth, but that just doesn’t do, as Jandek records really don’t ever sound like anyone but Jandek. Having said that, I still think of this one as ‘The Sonic Youth Jandek record.’ At least for the first while, anyway- the second half reverts back to some of the old tricks, the wrong notes picked time and again with the bass note anchoring things.

Sample lyric: ‘I take three baths a day- wash out my mind.’

Foreign Keys (749)

The best way that I can think of to describe this album is ‘shambly’- there are drums all over the place, but they seldom keep a beat. The album kinda drags along like a guy who has just had his legs cut off who’s got a bus to catch.

In addition to the omnipresent drums, Nancy is pretty evident on this album, though her voice is nowhere near as haunting or pretty as it was on ‘Chair Beside A Window.’ She kinda sounds like a busted Grace Slick as she howls through her vocals. There’s some duet action between her and our man towards the end of the record that’s pretty cool. And how funny is ‘Lost Cause,’ which features Jandek cracking up? He’s talking so much shit. Damn.

Sample lyric: ‘Yeah Steve he was very nice. He was a HOO he was a HOO’


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