[Jandek] Glasgow Sunday Review (from popmatters)

Jonathan Lee jplee at cox.net
Fri Jul 1 19:38:49 PDT 2005


Glasgow Sunday 
(Corwood Industries) 
Rating: 7 
US release date: 25 April 2005 
UK release date: Available as import  
by Rob Horning 
PopMatters Music Features Editor 

Over a span of 27 years, a musician known only as Jandek has released 40
albums in all without ever establishing a public identity. He never
performed publicly and released no details about his personal life,
including his name or whereabouts. His record label, Corwood Industries,
seems to exist only to release Jandek albums, and has no physical plant
beyond a Houston post-office box. All that has ever been known about
him, as Seth Tisue notes on his extremely comprehensive Jandek website,
is that nobody know anything at all about him. What differentiates
Jandek from the countless nobodies who are likely now recording their
own masterpieces as a hobby in bedrooms and basements all over the world
is the complete commitment he makes to his approach, which seems to have
no audience in mind and no relation to any trends in commercial music
ever to have surfaced. 

Jandek's approach is idiosyncratic to say the least: No chords or
melodies; he speaks a musical language that has few words in it, and no
grammar. What's amazing is the varying levels of intensity his music
uncovers; his records delineate more degrees of sadness then you ever
thought existed. Put any of his albums on and you are immediately
transported to a utterly alien sonic universe devoid of any familiar
anchoring points from which you can begin to relate it to what you
already know. His voice, haunted and forlorn, equally prone to moan,
whisper or shout, is usually saturated in echo, making it sound as
though he's singing from inside a sensory-deprivation tank. 

Don't try listening to Jandek with other people, because you'll
inevitably break into nervous and embarrassed giggles to shield yourself
from the enormity and the near-obscene intimacy of what you're hearing.
Not that it's lewd; it's just spiritually naked, as disconcerting as
suddenly eavesdropping on the voices in someone else's head.
Accordingly, Jandek is best listened to on headphones, preferably at
night, and preferably while walking through deserted streets. Because
his music challenges every assumption about why people make music and
why people listen to it (he demonstrates no musical talent, he has no
interest in fame or money, and he has no apparent interest in being in
any way entertaining), it forces you to a zero degree of musical
comprehension -- all the prejudices and preferences you may have
accumulated over the years are suddenly wiped away because they simply
don't apply here. Some people find this terrifying; being cast into an
entirely unpredictable world without rules, where all your assumptions
are wrong or moot, is pretty much analogous to being driven insane.
Others find this strangely liberating. Listening to Jandek can have a
purifying effect: it washes your ears clean so you can really hear other
music again. 

Because Jandek's music is so intensely subjective, because it's so
thorough a rejection of the music that's familiar and easily consumable,
listeners are confronted with their own subjectivity to a degree that
can be startling. You realize what you bring to listening, and how far
you are willing to be challenged, how much you are willing to pay
attention to what's there. We hear normal music everywhere; we are so
saturated with it, it's almost impossible to hear. But Jandek is
unthinkable until you hear him -- and if you care anything at all about
music as a form of the individual spirit holding out against the
increasing conformity and commodification of all aspects of life, you'll
want to hear him. 

But everything anybody ever knew about Jandek changed on October 17,
2004, when he made a completely unexpected maiden voyage out of the
realm of total obscurity and onto a Glasgow stage, playing his first
ever concert at the Instal festival, documented on this disc. Of course,
there was no indication that he would be playing beforehand, he would
identify himself only as a "representative from Corwood Industries", and
no one in the audience had any idea who he was when he began to play. 

For the cadre of hardcore record-store loiterers and outsider-art
aficionados and wayward music writers who constitute Jandek's fan base,
that he has played live at all is both astounding and troubling. His
appearance on stage after so many years of preserving total anonymity is
beyond stunning; that Jandek now seems to be in the midst of a UK tour
is tantamount to J.D. Salinger deciding to suddenly do a round of Barnes
& Noble book-signing events. And now that Jandek has played live
performances, his mystique is a bit tarnished -- his absolute refusal to
pander to any audience is one of the things that made his actual
audience feel special. Much of the feel of Jandek's music derived from
the insuperable barrier he maintained between him and his audience, the
way his songs seemed like dark matter issued from the far side of a
black hole. His performances on album are so deeply involuted that the
idea of watching someone onstage reenacting them is vaguely shameful,
like watching an autistic throw tantrums. But now that he's made several
appearances before crowds, he seems somehow reduced; no longer
inscrutable in a cosmic, epistemological sense, he's just another
garden-variety avant-garde musician with no mainstream recognition. 

Accompanied for the first time by recognizably accomplished musicians --
Richard Youngs on bass and Alex Neilson on drums - Glasgow Sunday is
without doubt Jandek's most accessible album to date, the first one
that's readily assimilated to other rock music you might have heard. The
rhythm section, improvising reactively to Jandek, with whom they
rehearsed once, used deep rumbling bass notes (sounding as if bowed) and
intricate percussive pattering on an assortment of cymbals and a snare,
evoking the cloudless vistas of the Dirty Three or Can at its most
meandering. And Jandek's slashing, discordant electric-guitar playing is
like Andy Gill's at its most abstract, like loose cables sparking at
high speeds on cement. Even that waking nightmare of Jandek's singing
voice -- the moaning wail from the edge of the void, the sound of total
desolation and spiritual immolation, at once manic and morose -- sounds
fuller, richer, a touch less ineffable. That he's clearly among a
roomful of people does a lot to take the edge off; you don't have that
same sense that he's paused to sing his last song before crawling off to
slit his throat as you sometimes would with his previous work. 

At the performance captured on Glasgow Sunday Jandek declines to reprise
any songs from his canon -- not even the oft-rerecorded "European Jewel
or "message to the Clerk" -- and presents all new material instead. The
new material reflects nothing of his sudden extroversion: In "Where I
Stay" he relates that "There's only this room / Where I stay / I stare
at objects / But I don't see them." Also included is a love song shot
through with religious overtones a la St. John of the Cross ("Darkness
You Give"), a few bleak meditations on death ("Not Even Water" and "Sea
of Red"), a few darkly humorous blues numbers ("Real Wild", "The Other
Side"), and a quintessential Jandekian exploration of how everyday life
can be shot through with vertiginous despair ("Blue, Blue World"). 

Whether Glasgow Sunday is ideal for Jandek newcomers is debatable.
Because of its relative accessibility, it is entirely uncharacteristic,
providing a totally misleading impression of how the rest of his catalog
sounds. It's best to consider this string of live performances as
another unexpected chapter in a musical career that has already seen
several acoustic phases, a spastic electric phase, a truly spooky a
capella period, and a recent phase where he played only the double-bass.
Though Jandek has come closer to conventional music than anyone would
have thought possible a decade ago, he remains a traveler on his own
unfathomable road. May we never know where he's going. 

 16 June 2005

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