Sunday, July 31

six feet under the radar : the enigma of jandek.

"The longest-running, weirdest, loneliest enigma in popular music is a guy from Texas who calls himself Jandek."
- Douglas Wolk, Providence Phoenix, 1999.

...Has been the traditional starting point for talking about Jandek, the Houston based genre-defining "outsider musician" who's self-released 67 albums since 1978, but only played his first live show in 2004.

This is the next most frequent port of call:

"Jandek, alone with a guitar and a microphone, sounds like a muttering sleepwalker aimlessly plucking amplified bicycle spokes. His music is dark and gloomy; but it won't make you sad-it will make you tense and uncomfortable. Here is the Ultimate Disconnect. You love it or hate it-and for every one of the former, there are one million of the latter."
- Irwin Chusid, 'Songs in the Key of Z'

"When it comes to idiot savants with mystique, no one can beat Jandek...He's an authentic human satellite, orbiting in a chilly weightless dimension thousands of miles from earth."
- Richie Unterberger, 'Unknown Legends of Rock'n Roll'

And just sometimes you get to here:

"Jandek is a living, breathing example of what you can get away with in the name of art...Jandek's is completely fraudulent art, exactly the kind of thing that people are talking about when they say that they don’t like modern art...Tonight is a swindle of the highest order, and every single one of us in the audience who does not register their disgust is responsible for allowing it to happen."
- Steven Rainey, live review, 2010.

But past the rhetorics of enigma and oddity, those 67 albums constitute a pretty amazing soundworld, unlike anyone else's... But not in terms of fraud, enigma, incompetence or psychosis, but rather in terms of things like technique, approach, detail. Over the 67 albums, there's many more variations than anyone gives him credit for... but it requires attention and patience, it requires commitment.

And this IS a strange and difficult world in many ways. The music of Jandek can be distant and detached, but also grippingly immediate in quite uncomfortable ways. A large amount of the canon consists of extremely solitary-sounding versions on a blues-based singer-songwriter theme, based around a specific variation of guitar tuning and the possibilities of sound and voice that can be structured around it. And it is quite a voice - a Texan-sounding high moaning whisper, often filled with despair and loneliness.

Despair and loneliness is often reflected in the incredibly lengthy corpus of words too. Again possibly reflecting a poetic, minimal and incredibly microscopic take on the blues tradition, Jandek returns again and again to themes of isolation, loneliness, despair and depression.

But this is the reductive party line in a corpus of work that also includes spoken word, noisy electric free rock, jokey novelty numbers, lengthy piano excursions, and since 2004, an array of live albums recorded with a variety of experimental musicians, including Richard Youngs and Alex Neilson (a fairly regular UK unit now), Loren Connors, Chris Corsano, Alan Licht, Heather Leigh Murray, John McEntire, Josh Abrams, Susan Alcorn, Ian Wadley, C. Spencer Yeh and Mike Watt, playing a wide array of instruments, in a wide array of settings, from chamber music to funk.

Join Avant Gardening this week where Sally McIntyre and guest host Campbell Walker explore some of the complexities of this rich and often misunderstood artist's work over the last 33 years.



1. 'Throw Me Away' from Austin Sunday (2006)
2. 'Blues Turned Black' from I Threw You Away (2002)
3. 'Lavender' from You Walk Alone (1988)
4. 'Carnival Queen' from Modern Dances (1987)
5. 'Come On Through With A Smile' from Somebody In the Snow (1990)
6. 'Where Do You Go From Here (Pt. 5)' from Where Do You Go From Here?(2011)
7. 'God Came Between Us' from Lost Cause (1992)
8. 'I'll Sit Alone And Think A Lot About You' from On The Way (1988)
9. 'Janky' from Graven Image (1994)
10. 'Hey Mister Can You Tell Me?' from Glad to Get Away (1994)
11. 'Point Judith' from Six and Six (1981)
12. 'Sailors' from Living in a Moon So Blue (1982)
13. 'European Jewel' from Chair Beside A Window (1982)
14. 'Birthday' from The Rocks Crumble (1983)
15. 'Governor Rhodes' from Telegraph Melts (1986)
16. 'Afternoon of Insensitivity (Pt. 6)' from Manhattan Tuesday (2007)
17. 'Blue Plastic Mat' from Chicago Wednesday (2010)
18. 'What Things Are' from Raining Down Diamonds (2005)
19. 'Front Porch Shimmy' from Not Hunting for Meaning (2009)
20. 'There's No Door' from The Myth Of Blue Icicles (2008)
21. 'Worthless Recluse' from Worthless Recluse (2001)
22. 'Crazy' from The Living End (1989)
23. 'Om' from Somebody in the Snow (1990)
24. 'We're All Through' from Follow Your Footsteps (1986)

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