Monday, May 02, 2005

Jandek, IV

I Woke Up (764)

The most feasible explaination I can come up with for this one is that there’s a Jandek impersonator singing on some of the cuts because our boy wanted to spend more time playing the harmonica. Seriously- there’s some guy on a bunch of these tracks doing a Jandek impression that leaves a little bit to be desired. Not all of ‘em, natch- the man himself sings a bunch (there’s this one song that is so slathered in echo that it sounds like the Jandek Twins are performing, no shit). The easiest thing would have been to have that guy sing the whole damn record, but since when are these records easy? Hell, you’ve read through sixteen of these reviews already- you know what I’m talking about.

This album winds up being a big ol’ kick in the nuts because of its context- being preceeded by three albums that were bare and focused makes this one seem like even more of a mess. In the best way, you understand.

Sample lyric: “Regulation passing by. Frequently I have to sigh.”

The Beginning (766)

If you read into it, this is one of those typically leading red herring albums, but, at the same time, it isn’t.

The first half of the record isn’t entirely unlike the trifecta of 761-763, with sparse guitar arrangements. There’s some electric guitar being played, but not in an ostentatious manner, noticeable mostly in the way the strings are bent. Similar sounding vocals, the whole ball of wax- nothing all that remarkable, especially when held up to the other recent releases.

The last song, ‘The Beginning,’ is the one. Fifteen minutes of noise from a piano (!). Noise doesn’t really do it, though- there are whole moments that show potential, little flashes of ownership and practice that seem to be leading in a new, uncharted direction for the man In the context of the album being released, especially with such a lofty title, the obvious subtext of ‘The Beginning’ was, of course, the start of a piano phase of some sort (which would have been fucking awesome, based on the instrumental.) Well, it was the beginning, as it turns out, but the extended jam wasn’t the direction- instead, our boy put out three spoken word albums in a row. Man, what an asshole.

Sample lyric: “Take a load of Juicy Juice. Set yourself loose.”

Worthless Recluse (769)

The only one of the three spoken word records I have- one of the first two I ever bought, along with ‘Blue Corpse.’

You know my standard rant about how comedy records are the most time consuming reviews because they demand my undivided attention? This record is much the same, at least in that way. ‘Spoken Word’ is probably a bit of a misnomer- no idea what to call this one. There’s no instruments aside from Jandek’s voice. Some of this stuff has the odd rhythm of a poetry slam reading. Other parts have these weird pauses of inflection, gaps in diction that sound like a bad Christopher Walken impression or something. Other parts fall into this sing-songy lilt that make me think that there’s a companion CD of music that can be played along with this CD like that Flaming Lips record that requires four different disc players to play properly.

During the pauses, you can hear tape hiss- this might have been recorded on a boombox, for all we know. It’s amazing- the hiss and the pauses and the weird tones and pitch changes make this record even more raw, more open and up front and viscerally emotional if you can get past the cringes of embarrassment you feel when you first hit play. The man has laid it all out, bare. So intensely personal that this record cannot be listened to with anyone else in the room (which doesn’t seem like an entirely unlikely intent.)

Sample lyric: “Communication, no more tribes with shrunken heads.”

I Threw You Away (770)

So ‘Worthless Recluse’ ends with this track where Jandek intones, over and again, that he’s going to beat me down. I’ll never get up. Whatever, right? Just Jandek being Jandek. Then the new phase of recordings starts, and it turns out he was right.

Part of the speculation about Jandek and his career has revolved around the artwork on the covers and how it coincides with the music that is being played on each album. I haven’t discussed it much in these reviews because it’s easily accessible on Seth’s page and, more recently, as a bonus track of the Jandek on Corwood DVD. I haven’t seen much criticism of the newer stuff, though, so here we go. Strap in.

After the spoken albums, two new batches have come out (I’m excluding, for critical purposes, the just-released ‘Glasgow Sunday’ CD, which is a recording of the live show in Scotland at the end of last year). ‘I Threw You Away’ is the first of four consecutive CD’s with covers that we presume were taken in Europe: ‘Threw’ was, we know- the intersection depicted is in Cork. ‘Humility of Pain’ looks to be a European alleyway, and ‘The Place’ and ‘The Gone Wait’ depict mannequins in a store window, but the reflection in the glass of the former shows architecture that looks European. The next four after that, once again, depict Jandek, the man himself: ‘Shadow Of Leaves’ has him in front of a batch of trees in a black overcoat; ‘The End Of It All’ shows him in profile, older, eyes cast down; ‘The Door Behind’ has this photo of Jandek with this big gnarly beard that probably has like crumbs and food stuck in it (man, does he ever look crazy- are we sure that it was Kazynski who was sending all those letterbombs years back? I mean, are we totally sure?), and ‘A Kingdom He Likes’ is the second bearded photo, except it’s a well-groomed beard, he’s smiling (!) and wearing a cowboy hat (perhaps the same one that he wore on the cover of ‘Put My Dreams On This Planet’).

(Maybe the last two records he’s released, ‘When I Took That Train’ and ‘Glasgow Sunday’ will be a return to the European covers. We’ll see.)

I noticed the four-of-each thing, and thought about how cool it would be to cohesively tie up the links- to nail down the stylistic nuances that were alluded to by the covers. I should’ve known by now that nothing is ever easy with Jandek and his catalogue. There’s no tidy wrapup of the vacation photo/Jandek photo phases- after ‘The Gone Wait,’ the next record, ‘Shadow of Leaves,’ sounds pretty much the same, both in terms of instrumentation and vocals- the phases don’t differ too much sonically. Another theory shot to shit. Ah well.

Remember way up at the top of this review, when I mentioned that the spoken album ends with ‘I’m gonna beat you down/you’ll never get up?’ All this talk about covers and phases, etc. was to discuss the new sounds our boy produces following his declaration. Beginning with this record, the sounds are more anguished and downright depressing, for my money, than anything on the catalogue. ‘I Threw You Away’ drags along at a snail’s pace, the shortest of the five songs clocking in at seven and a half minutes (the next six records after this one also contain fewer, lengthier songs). A slight bit of harmonica aside, this one is all vocals and detuned guitar. I know, I know- saying ‘detuned guitar’ in a Jandek review sounds pretty obvious and silly. This shit is seriously detuned- some of the most atonal, irritating sounds the man has ever produced, to the point that certain notes, the high frequencies produce an almost physical reaction in the listener.

Vocally, Jandek has never sounded like this, either. He’s sings in a low register when he’s not wailing- this ungodly, grating yowl that manages to sound even worse on the next record.

Sample lyric: “I’ve got a pain in my head. You gave me an earthquake.”

Humility Of Pain (771)

The most unlistenable and underrated album of the catalogue. Detuned high pitches crash into each other, ratting yr. fillings and seeking out the base of yr. spine as Jandek howls in a drunken slur about how the listener understands the humility of pain. You know how people’s hometown accents come out after a few cocktails? The cocktails have produced a hell of a drawl.

Despite the agony of listening to this record (the one that I burn and give to friends who want an introduction to the man- start ‘em off with the best shit first), the lyrical content almost feels like a self-help book, like Jandek is trying to affirm that he’s on the right path and doing the right things for himself. For the first five, anyway, before he starts singing to somebody in the second person- perhaps the listener, perhaps some woman- about how he wants to share his life and doesn’t want to discuss his life. Seriously. And it’s not one of those instances where he’s referring to himself as ‘you,’ because in the songs where he says ‘you’ a lot he’s also referring to himself as ‘I’. He’s singing to someone. But, you know, at the beginning he was singing to himself, presumably. Sonically brutal, lyrically muddled- everything you could ask for in an album from our favorite enigma. I’ll say it again: massively underrated.

Sample lyric: ‘Why am I doing this? Because you let me.’

The Place (772)

Very, very much in the same vein as ‘Pain’, except that the guitar isn’t anywhere near as trebly and the vocals are less drawl-y. The last three records sound to me like Jandek had something happen to him, perhaps women-related, and went on a huge bender, recording stuff as he went. ‘Pain’ was the height to the drunken binge- the southern accent is most pronounced, everything is slurred. This one doesn’t ooze with pained negativity the way the last one did- the headache is starting to roll in and the energy is seeping away to sleep.

Sample lyric: ‘I’m glad to be alive and well. Let me check my parts to see if I’m all here.’

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