Sunday, 9 May 2010

Corwood 0796 - Jandek: "Helsinki Saturday"

Just when you thought you were getting a handle on the man, the myth and the legend, Jandek goes and releases an album like this. "Helsinski Saturday" is a recording of the man from Corwood's 11th live performance, and is the label's 11th live album release (excluding DVD issues of previous performances). The album features only one song, the 63 minute long improvised instrumental piece "Sleeping in the Dawn", and like "Glasgow Monday" and "Hasselt Saturday" before it, the representative from Corwood plays piano.

It can be seen, however, that the tone set here is markedly different from those performances in many ways. Recorded live in November 2005, "Helsinki Saturday" features accompaniment by Iro Haarla on harp, with piano and harp playing off against each other with both gentle beauty and twisted dissonance.

Jandek's piano for the most part seems to be based around oriental-sounding runs which are complimented perfectly by Haarla's playing, making for a truly different and interesting record. During the darker segments of the piece, Haarla's ability really comes to the fore, matching Jandek's off-kilter playing with scrapes and heavy-plucks to the instrument, cacophonous chords and an impressive ability to respond to the other player. Haarla also takes the lead at various points during the piece, introducing more discordant elements as the record progresses.

Undoubtedly some will be put off by the length of the piece and by the fact that this is an entirely instrumental record, however I would strongly encourage you to pick this one up if you can. This is a gorgeous sounding record with improvisation that is variously interesting, challenging and beautiful. Essential listening.

"Helsinki Saturday" is available for purchase from Corwood Industries, P.O. Box 15375, Houston TX 77220.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Corwood 0800 - Jandek: "Camber Sands Sunday"

To my knowledge this live album from Corwood has thus far failed to garner a great deal of discussion, which is fairly surprising given just how ferocious and fresh this live record sounds. Corwood 0800 is another fantastic addition to this truly unique and inspiring catalogue, variously hitting like the dirtiest moments of “Glasgow Sunday” with a renewed focus and intensity, and reproducing the quiet, considered introspection of recent studio albums in full band arrangement. As with the aforementioned live record, the inimitable Man from Corwood is once again backed by Alex Neilson and Richard Youngs, (this being their fifth live performance together) but this time the group sounds a lot more ‘together’; like they’re beginning to work more like a single entity, while remaining a group of experimental players bringing their own worldviews, experiences and styles to the set.

The album begins with the jazz drenched post-punk of “Pragmatic”, a track awash with stabbing guitar, fragmenting and re-forming beats and Youngs’ frenetic fretless bass. “I’m only 22 / It’s hard for me… I have to be pragmatic / I stayed awake two hours / Thinking about those words”. Youngs’ bass dips and swoops through filthy jazz runs while Neilson conjures gloriously complex rhythms that frequently hark back to jazz, post-punk, tribal beats and everything else in between. The representative plays delay-drenched and overdriven electric guitar which, bizarrely naturally, completes this unorthodoxly orthodox sound.

“Pragmatic” gives way to the downbeat “The Crushed Image”, a track reminiscent of recent studio output in its style and lyrical content, with the Representative finger-picking and focussing on single notes while Youngs and Neilson provide a dark but consistently interesting backdrop. The thing that makes Jandek’s writing so important to me and many others is his ability to convey the tragic beauty in the everyday, an almost impressionistic style that delves deep into the artist’s heart and describes in a few words subtle nuances of concern that a thousand words from anyone else would fail to paint. “And now you want to meet with me… Is it to say hello and goodbye in the same instant? As the eyes lower because it’s not as good as expected… I just wanted to say be prepared for a smashing close to all the years we knew obliquely. In the shadows, the dream beshadows. We can kill it all and go on living a soft refrain of a crushed image dying on the vine”.

“The Idea of You” continues the tone set by “The Crushed Image”, but the guitar style is much more fluid and free while Neilson’s drums take on a more percussive tone, similar to that on “The Cell” (aka “Glasgow Monday”). Youngs’ bass is more akin to this performance than elsewhere on the record, throbbing yet still maintaining the momentum of the performance. “The real thing that I have is the idea of you, nobody could ever take that away. Maybe it’s the best thing as I quietly walk in the morning, free and alone…”

The next track, “Hair of the dog”, is, by contrast violent and visceral in its execution, with pounding post-rock bass and drums framing the Representative’s psychedelic proto-punk guitar. “The hair of the dog / got me through the morning of the night before…” This is one of the most intense tracks in Jandek’s live period, and is definitely not to be missed. Hell, he even manages to fit in a nod to St Augustine, saying “I got my goblet all full of wine, I think of quitting but then I say ‘Lord, give me another day’…”

From its bare bones intro through to the extended jams between verses to the fantastic (but brilliantly simple) bass riff that announces the close of the track, this is Jandek at his most interesting. “Yeah I got drunk like I always do, I could stop drinking were it not for you”.

“The Rapture” is yet another incredibly interesting piece, both on a lyrical and musical level. Youngs’ and Neilson’s complex and varied rhythms feature heavily on this track, backing spacey alt.rock guitars. The commonplace is again made magical and sacred in the lyrics, as a simple conversation is turned into a story of star-crossed love; “You’re looking for more songs about you, you think you own them all… [but] I’ve given some to God… So the work of man continues long / just to find you waiting there / and when your arms are for me / all your desires will be set free / we will move the time of day and whirl away into the night / but then again the captured time / lost in love, our arms entwined / and given that you didn’t know me we don’t care what will be / the rapture where we find ourselves is all we need, there’s no more.”

In a further twist to an already very unorthodox Jandek record, the next track “My party” is a nihilistic post-punk jam that veers on the edge of chaos throughout, with a fantastic little descending bass-line… I don’t know if this is a fretless bass Youngs is using but the playing on this entire record sounds great and adds a great deal to the sound as well as to the improvisation element of the record. Jagged, angular guitars and frantic drums characterise this track, with the guitar dissolving into pickscrapes midway through before Neilson and Youngs pick up the pace while Jandek intones “Goodbye everyone / I’m going to my party / and you won’t be there… Just me and the panthers”.

The final track “Stolen Powers” is again an entirely different beast to anything else on the record, with a dark and pronounced bassline accompanying minimalist drums and guitars; “Remember the depths where you were / all hurting in shambles / I came along and worshipped you / put you upon your pedestal / now you break heart and soul and they discover who they are / you’re an angel in disguise / blessing all mortal beings / and you blessed me, too / but I made you also /and you now have these powers / stolen from me”.

It’s been made abundantly clear over the last 6 years that Jandek is versatile enough to adapt to any number of line-ups, but without question this is the rhythm section that most understands what he’s been trying to do all these years, that respects the man and his catalogue but at the same time isn’t afraid to test that, stretch that and contribute to that wider vision.

“Camber Sands Sunday” is a unique live record with a number of tracks that are worthy of being considered among Jandek’s best. “Hair of the Dog” and “My party” show this line-up at its most vicious and vital, while “The Rapture” and “The Crushed Image” demonstrate the true depth of Jandek's unique songwriting abilities as convincingly as earlier albums like "Six and Six" or "Blue Corpse". Definitely not to be missed.

"Camber Sands Sunday" is available for purchase from Corwood Industries, P.O. Box 15375, Houston TX 77220.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Corwood 0794 - Jandek: "Skirting the Edge"

The latest full-length studio album from Corwood, "Skirting the Edge", can be seen to be one of the artist's darkest moments to date. This all acoustic album has four tracks and is an unrelenting and often-times bleak collection that seems to reflect on love, life, death, ill-health and material possessions.

"When I leave it at the side of the road, like trash to find its way home / To the earth and the hands of time / When I'm ready to go away for good, and the bargains been made / I'll just mosey on like I do... [when] the long trail is behind and the call cannot be ignored."

The album's first track "The side of the road" sets the scene for the rest of the album; lyrical content that can be seen to be relatively "positive", in that the piece is about accepting the certainty of death at the end of life's journey, contrasted with music and vocal delivery that seems far less sure of this acceptance... This is "deathbed blues", and this strain between lyrical content and delivery shows clearly the raft of conflicting emotions that one man can witness when considering the inevitable.

The repeated theme of the song that gives the piece its title is "leaving it at the side of the road" - whether that's life itself or the trappings of modern life - the artist concludes that "I won't need those things no more / I won't need to think about the instinct of what to do / I'll give it all to black and blue"

The piece ends with the narrator/subject, somewhat darkly saying "I'm skirting the edge of it now / and I feel like its coming on... All the desires have closed their doors".

The second piece on the album, "I know my name" seems to be more improvised and raw in its emotions; the artist's vocals can be heard to be strained, sad, joyful and resigned at various points of the story... This is how love songs really should sound. "Take this big picture away, I want to be with the little things". This is a sentiment that many will empathise with; the complicated nature of life and human relationships getting in the way of the fairytale ending that we believe would occur if we existed in a vacuum, away from the strains of life and outside interference.

The piece moves on into oblique gambling metaphors, before once again defiantly casting aside worldly wealth in favour of true love in a vacuum; "Let's lose everything and go away, we'll be real lost / and if that's your thing / You lost and so did I / We lost together... I'm so lost you can't find me / There's no other souls in this epiphany / So I'm gambling, you're fictitious... Mr. Gambling please meet Mrs. Fictitious / We'll curse the world yeah..."

The piece goes on to explicitly state a desire to forget about the world and its obsession with material possessions, stating "the universe is gone / It's stopped the time and I escape into the little world where there's nothing else / I have no responsibilities. It's just money and things."

Possibly connected to the "big picture" being referred to throughout the song, reference is made to the I-speaking subject's pain, both mental and physical. "Pain and suffering, anguish is my name" the narrator tells us, while a repeated theme of the piece is the line "pain, dark and misery". The piece seems to refer regularly to physical pain and medical treatment to alleviate this; "I got enough pain without my body", the narrator tells us before discussing how medical treatments are making the subject more aware of his emotions. "The treatment has got me fast falling into you / I'm so happy to fall I hope I never rise / What's going down is my joyful ride / and I've been walking for decades / Pain is such a relief and I'm feeling better now that I'm hurt so bad".

The song ends in typically succinct yet beautiful Jandekian fashion, "I love my pain / It gives me my name / But the light that still flickers is still there when you're gone / I flicker in that light".

Following on from this is "The Playground", a piece that discusses what we would assume to be an incident from the narrator's childhood. The song again deals with illness and cure, this time as the result of a stone thrown by local children near a friend's house. The song describes how the subject's friend, Albert, took the shirt from his own back to help stop the bleeding, before his mother "stopped the process of my demise". The incident seems to have given the narrator a fresh outlook on life at the time, and notes a recognition of the inherent kindness in others as he witnessed in Albert that day; "And then I hit the street all cured and pure clean / I swept the scenery / I touched the water every day / I found you floating in another person every day".

The later descriptions of "the Paris flowers in December" may refer to a meeting in later life or during the days described before, but either way the narrator is clear - he wants to be more like the subject of the piece; "I'm you / and I want you to be me / so we can be the same."

The final song on this album is another piece that comes across as being mostly improvised, the oblique "Last Sunlight". This piece deals with mostly natural images of a metaphorical journey, again seemingly taking on the album's themes of ill-health and the end of life. The classic Jandekian theme of the river is subverted, and in this scene is pestulant, but still used to signify life and the journey through it - a fascinating metaphor and an interesting insight into the artist's mind. Again an unnamed subject is referred to as making the narrator feel re-born, "you are where the water starts again" the narrator tells us.

The album ends in the vein that it begun - accepting mortality, while longing for things to be simple, with the narrator telling us "I lay myself before you, trample me down / I'm gone for you / I disappear / I divided and conquered / I laid waste your territory / You loved me for that / I got certain recollection of the rocks and things / I say bye bye bye / I say bye bye"

This album is an excellent addition to the catalogue of releases from Corwood, and is one of the label's most challenging in terms of its themes. Those with a particular interest in the acoustic material Corwood has released in the past will relish this album, and the record comes highly recommended, alongside the other recent all-acoustic album, "Myth of Blue Icicles".

"Skirting the Edge" is available for purchase from Corwood Industries, P.O. Box 15375, Houston TX 77220.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Corwood 0789 - Jandek: "Brooklyn Wednesday" (Set 1)

Collected on 4-disc CD box set and 2-disc DVD, "Brooklyn Wednesday" is a document of the sixth live performance credited to the Representative from Corwood Industries.

Recorded on September 7 2005, the show was split into two sets, with the Representative on guitar for the first set and fretless guitar for the second, backed during both performances by Matt Heyner on bass and Chris Corsano on drums.

(Please note that this review will deal only with the first set, with the second set to follow as a separate post, as both are very rich in content and equally worthy of comment.)

The first set begins with the brilliant "Put Me There", an initially sedate track, with running bass, trebly leads and jazz-rock drums building into a crescendo of fills and strummed dissonance; "I wish I was in a one room house / no doors no windows / food passed through a slot... I wish I was in jail / please put me there". The repeated Jandekian theme of a desire to shut out the world seems to be present here again, with doors and windows representing the outside world and possibly threats to his privacy and/or solitude. The interesting thing about this piece is that, unlike previous pieces in his catalogue which use the door metaphor, a jail is a place of restraint, and the one-room house the writer desires has no way for him to leave, even if he wants to. This could possibly represent a struggle within the writer himself; he wants to go out into the world, but when he does he often regrets it and finds himself in a lonelier and more isolated situation than before. "I don't wanna go / I don't wanna stay" he tells us, indicating this very struggle.

The next piece is entitled "Destroy the Day" and is a much more down-beat track; "I go to sleep at night / Not knowing who I am" the narrator tells us. The piece seems to make reference to higher states of consciousness speaking of being "Illumined by the dance / and the red river late afternoon / where I lose reality". The piece goes on to describe a faith in another reality other than the one we know; "down amongst the dust that gathers on the floor / I'll cling to my illusion / that there's more than one floor". Dust here could be taken to represent death and the constant decay of our bodies over time, with skin being shed and making up dust. The hope that there's "more than one floor" could make reference to the writer's hope that a Heaven or another spiritual reality exists, while faced with the constant threat of decay and death. Despite this, however, the use of the word "illusion" seems to suggest that although he feels that another reality could exist, this is merely a delusion and a distraction. The song concludes with the somewhat nihilistic note; "You can search for salvation / You can take it like it is / And agree you have been saved / Whatever you say / It's just another way to destroy the day".

Following on from this is the much more blues-based "Obscure Physics". The piece starts off with the players sounding jumbled and free, before joining together in a cool, loose groove. The song discusses a focused songwriting process; "I observe obscure physics when I do what I do / I use all the things I found out and I draw my attention to them"; but the focus has been broken by someone who has left the writer's life; "but that night you left me / I can hardly see it go". The narrator tells us that he has "got a bottle / and a gambler's heart" but that he'd "rather watch [the subject's] spirit / than go rolling in the city". He admits that the relationship is "dead and its over", but that he's "loving her still"and concludes with the line "hey baby, I love you and I always do".

"Structure of Words" seems to have an almost funk-like feel to it at its inception, before moving into the barked, garage-punk repetition of the verses; "I taught / the structure of thought / I taught the structure of words / The structure of thought / The structure of words". The distorted bass played by Matt Heyner is particularly impressive on this piece, running wildly yet never feeling out-of-place. The images in this piece seem to be about creating a new reality; building oceans, working with iron, and making the future, "now, now, now".

The next piece, "All I want", is a sedate piece with understated drums, lyrics and a laid back arrangement, with images that wouldn't seem out-of-place on "Six and Six"; "All I want to do is drink wine and watch the sun go down / Let my thoughts go where they will / Wander down with the sun". The writer seems to be at his most comfortable by twilight, but "when [the sun] comes up [he gets] more serious". However, he doesn't want to think about tomorrow. He describes a walk down the avenue and back as the sun goes down, thinking of someone departed, before returning to what he describes as "the blank stare wanderlust, where the wind takes the tree leaves". The duality of the man is clearly seen here, as in this song, the 'outside', the journey to wherever the wind takes him, as well as the escape from where he currently is, is seen as important and desired, in stark contrast to the one-room house of "Put Me There".

The stand-out track from this set is the penultimate song, "I'll Send A Thought Out Floating", a melancholy piece about things that should have been said but never were. The piece describes a lost love, the letters never sent and the songs never sung; "The poetry I sent you is a small thing / Compared to what I didn't send / The sealed envelopes / Stamped upon / Sitting still in the drawer". The orchestration is minimal with short, tragic strums, melodic bass stabs and subdued percussion accompanying the narrator's vocals at their most tender. "The flame just got put out in the rain", he tells us.

The writing on display during this set can be seen to be very strong, and the chemistry between the players incredible. All three musicians bring their personalities to the table, resulting in the diverse brew evident here and (even more prominently) on the second set.

The DVD edition of this release is in my view the best of the Corwood DVD's so far in terms of quality and clarity, with 3 camera angles available on every song collected here. The setting is intimate, with the players standing no more than two metres away from each other, giving the impression that the viewer is spying on this spontaneous and wild (yet tense and focused) jam session only; an impression only briefly broken by the audience's applause.

"Brooklyn Wednesday" is one of Corwood's most diverse live releases to date, and both formats come highly recommended. Both of the sets performed are impressive in their content and delivery, but the second set truly has to be heard (and then seen) to be believed. A full review of this will follow in a future post.

"Brooklyn Wednesday" is available for purchase on 4-CD box set and 2-disc DVD from Corwood Industries, P.O. Box 15375, Houston TX 77220.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Corwood 0790 - Jandek: "The Myth of Blue Icicles"

The latest studio release from Corwood Industries, "The Myth of Blue Icicles" sees Jandek making a return to his traditional heartland of twisted solo acoustic guitar accompanying vocals that swing from what seem to be very personal, diary-like narratives to image-laden, death dream prose.

The album begins with the astounding "Too Course" (sic), a regretful piece where the writer vividly recounts his first meeting with an unidentified person three years ago. "I'm sorry - I must have appeared too coarse and unrefined", he tells us wistfully. The narrator speaks directly to the song's subject, who we can assume was equally nervous during this first coy meeting; "Your eyes said hello to me /and a whole lot of things came out of you". Despite these initial uncertainties in the relationship, the writer tells us that the subject "had some endurance, and so did [he]". It seems from the narration that despite this, the subject has since drifted out of the narrator's life without getting to know him to the extent the narrator would have liked. The narrator from this point on describes a more guarded approach to the relationship, noting with sad, world-weariness; "I have decided to only respond the way I want / Too many times". The oft-commented upon Jandekian metaphor of the closed door is used again in this piece to represent a retreat from the world (as it had been in "Number 14" from "Staring at the Cellophane" and "No Slow Ones" from "Telegraph Melts"); "Sometimes I don't open the door / Too many times / But I look out the window / Maybe I'll see you there".

The album's title track "Blue Icicles" is another brilliant and deeply personal piece, that seems almost defiant in places. "Well its my birthday and I'm here to stay" the writer tells us over a choppy sea of chaotic and impassioned guitar; and "I'm not going back to any other year". This comment seems to vehemently assert Corwood's intention to go forward, not back. "There's only two ways to go / Come or stay", the narrator tells the listener, making it clear that the journey is far from over, and that Jandek is "not done yet / the best is yet to come". The narrator tells us that he will "bend his body" and "bend his will", to complete a "new song", that we can assume represents the continuation of his art. The piece goes on to veer into surreal poetry asking the subject to surrender their spirit, describing a death and re-birth cycle with both author and subject travelling as one person - a very interesting take on the unique symbiotic relationship that an artist like this has with their audience, symbolised by the elemental images of fire and ice in this piece.

The next track "The Daze" is a vivid description of a psychedelic dream, seeming to describe as much the mechanics of the dream process as the images and visions; "I watched pictures in the night / I saw images of the day / My body went through the motions / at least it seemed that way". The narrator describes colours, feelings and loosely connected images, with time melting like ice around him; the whole dream having a vague "semblance to the waking hours", although "from somewhere far away".

The final track "There's no door" once again uses the door metaphor discussed earlier in this review; "Open the door / space - no bottom, no top / no right, no left, no direct behind". The vocal in this opening line seems to be filled with dread, with the outside world being filled with very little that the narrator can relate to, although he tells us (possibly paraphrasing words spoken to him in the past); "Go forth and take that step and leave what you know / To what you don’t know / Can never know". The images in this piece seem to show a real sadness in the writer, suggesting that by letting his emotional guard down the narrator has fallen into a void that he cannot get out of. "Energy propels and the void carries you because you opened the door / And walked right in / dropped off a cliff and can't stop falling".

"The Myth of Blue Icicles" is an excellent piece of writing and improvisational poetry, with acoustic guitars that shift from cacophony to blues-influenced playing throughout. The lyrical content of this album is phenomenal, dark and considered; psychedelic, vivid and improvised all at once. The personal nature of much of this writing will endear the album to the majority of Corwood listeners, who thrive on the uncut and untouched emotion of these releases. Contrary to popular belief, the door is most definitely open and, like the record says, the best part's yet to come.

"The Myth of Blue Icicles" is available for purchase from Corwood Industries, P.O. Box 15375, Houston TX 77220.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Corwood 0751 - Jandek: "Follow Your Footsteps"

The thirteenth release on Corwood Industries, 1986’s “Follow Your Footsteps”, can be seen to be yet another fascinating twist in this unique and extraordinary catalogue. On the heels of the excellently-produced, full-band avant-blues of “Telegraph Melts” and the visceral grooves of “Foreign Keys”, this album is a considerable departure from the label’s general sound during this period, as well as from anything Corwood has released since.

The album begins with the triumphant chaos of “Honey”, a free instrumental piece that is as unrestrained as it is melodic. This piece sets the mood for the album perfectly by combining dark, convulsing rhythms with more temperate and “written” guitar lines. “Honey”’s violent crashing drums, set against a skyline of experimental guitars, build to a crescendo, only to drop into a glorious alt.rock bridge towards the end of the piece, giving an early glimpse as to how interesting this album gets.

“Honey” is followed by “What do you want to sing?”, a piece similar in style, again utilising much more traditional guitar arrangements than on previous releases. The female vocalist first heard on “Nancy Sings” appears briefly in this song, asking – perhaps not surprisingly – “What do you want to sing?”

The unrelenting drum-driven sound established in these tracks is continued with “Jaws of Murmur”, a mud-soaked track that sounds more like an ancient spiritual than an experimental proto-punk band. The lead vocal on this track seems to be from a different voice, a deeper voice that we will hear again, most notably on the later Corwood release, “Blue Corpse”. The voice is low in the mix but intones loudly with an interesting resonance, almost like a minister or priest barking out prescribed truths and warnings to his flock. This sixties-style vocal fits this song perfectly, although Jandek’s distinctive, pure and empassioned voice for me is far more interesting and appealing.

This album has the advantage of being more akin to conventional alternative rock than other releases from Corwood Industries, and as such can be seen to be a good starting point for those interested in Jandek’s music. “Preacher” is a good example of this, with one guitar playing elemental drones combined with alt.blues-style slide guitar in the background, while another plays a twisted, wiry lead in the foreground. The lyrics are simple, while both music and lyrics are bluesy in both delivery and repetition; “Are you goin’ down to the preacher? Are you gonna think he’s your teacher?”. Throughout the song, the piece returns to a traditional arpeggiated guitar break which serves as a chorus, punctuated beautifully throughout by the nihilistic, descending lead.

“Didn’t Ask Why” features the guitar sound most similar to modern alternative on the album, and uses a great deal of open, rung-out notes. Jandek’s familiar, ghostly voice is pushed to the front this time, and is very high in the mix; "You didn’t ask me why/You just watched me cry / Well, you were so sad / Oh, then you were so bad / Now back on the street / My own two feet / But you didn’t ask me why."
The vocalist from “Jaws of Murmur” also makes an appearance in this track, this time providing background vocals.

The next track, “Leave All You Have” is one of the best in Jandek’s varied catalogue. The track begins with what sounds like two guitars clashing, briefly finding some common ground and then dissolving into chaos before coming together to make beautiful noise from this carnage. This discordant soundscape makes the perfect backdrop for Jandek’s haunting voice; “ On the edge of reality / You’ll find a bird who’ll sing to thee / Leave all you have / At the edge of the road you’re on / A vulture waits for you to look back / Leave all you have”. Never did a song so perfectly encapsulate what is important about Jandek’s work than this. As the verse begins, the song seems to be barely holding together, the prevalent sound being similar to two guitars tuning against each other. As the finger-picked chorus line comes in, the bell-like dissonance of Jandek’s guitar hangs like a shadow, before the almost whispered voice sings quietly “Leave all you have”. The piece is soured only-slightly by the ending tacked on by the more traditional guitar player which doesn’t fit at all with the mood of this most excellent of pieces.

This clash of ideologies between the two guitar sounds can be heard to an even greater extent on “Dearly Need Some Words”, a track where the contrast could not be clearer between the “old guard” traditionalist style of playing, and Jandek’s soulful experimental freedom of expression.

A number of the later tracks on the album (particularly “Straight Thirty Seconds” and “Bring On Fatima”) return to the sound of releases like “Foreign Keys”, with demure, funeral-march drumbeats that seem to be more in-control and focussed than elsewhere on this record. The rhythm guitars are also much more distinctively Jandekian and sound a great deal more comfortable on these tracks.

“For Today” may be more familiar to some as “The Cat That Walked From Shelbyville” from 1988’s popular “You Walk Alone” LP. The (presumably) original version presented on this release is performed on free, solo acoustic guitar, with perfect down-in-a-mirror-chair-beside-a-window vocals that are Jandek at his natural best – singing straight from his soul with no interruptions and no compromise.

The album ends with the child-like joy of “We’re All Through” which consists mostly of one repeated line; “All together now / One, two / We’re all through” – a strangely fitting way to end one of Jandek’s most interesting collections.

“Follow Your Footsteps” can be described as Jandek’s classic alternative album, and is a good starting point for anyone who has heard a limited amount of material but is unsure about where to begin. This album perfectly distils the essence of what is important and worthwhile about Jandek’s work, and presents this in an accessible way. Moreover, the album presents an interesting collaborative experiment which is at times very distinct from the other material released on Corwood during this period, and is, as such, an essential addition to any Jandek fan’s collection.

"Follow Your Footsteps" is available for purchase from Corwood Industries, P.O. Box 15375, Houston TX 77220.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Corwood 0792 - Jandek: "Glasgow Sunday 2005"

Recorded live on October 16 2005 as part of the Instal music festival, "Glasgow Sunday 2005" is the latest release from Corwood Industries, and can be seen to be a considerable departure from recent live performances and releases.

The album features only two tracks; the three-part dystopian narrative, "The Grassy Knoll" and the spaced-out psych garage freakout, "Tribal Ether". Both tracks weigh in at around 25 minutes each and are as captivating as any work released on the Corwood label.

The first of these, "The Grassy Knoll" has Loren Connors performing calm-before-the-storm guitars while the representative from Corwood recites an eloquent spoken word and sung piece of apocalyptic prose. Each verse is separated by a section of harmonica played by Jandek.

"We all took the invitation to experience some new ideas," the representative intones, describing himself and thousands more being led to an estate with a mansion, nestling amongst grassy hills. The assembled group are taken into the mansion and put into separate rooms waiting for "the enlightenment to follow".

The piece describes the visitors as coming of their own free will, attending lectures and seminars, while their hosts provided "instruction, pointing on charts to words and concepts". The narrator tells us, however, that he soon realised that this mansion was not all it seemed to be; that their hosts' words were full of falsity, and that the invitation had been a trap, set to enslave their minds and bodies.

The control the hosts have over the new recruits seems to increase as the song progresses, from coercion, to mind control and then finally to physical restraint - "the hosts of our gathering now became the keepers of our bodies". The narrator describes watching as others lost their souls and minds to the forces of the place while he tried in vain to warn them and plan escape. These attempts have been met with indifference while the hosts' "congregations [tried] to convince we visitors that they were special". The narrator, however, has not been fooled and has "remained steadfast" and has not become a part of "the plan".

Throughout the piece, the Corwood representative's vocal cuts across Loren Connors' dreamlike guitar soundscapes with jarring nightmarish images, haunting harmonica and increasingly chaotic vocals. As the piece progresses, Connors' guitar interplays with this, becoming increasingly threatening, as if Connors is setting the scene, establishing this seemingly perfect world while Jandek is the only one who can see it for the malevolent force it is.

The piece goes on to describe what seems to be a sexual aspect to the group in charge of this mansion, with the narrator telling us that "all the girls in the room were trying to love me/They couldn't understand how I could just say no".

Who the group is, or what they represent is never made explicit to the listener throughout the song, although a few possible clues can be found in the lyrics. The use of words like "congregations" as well as the Biblical parallels of the house with many rooms seem to suggest that this may be a quasi-religious group of some sort, with their leader identified as being "some kind of god-man". The descriptions of lectures and seminars also bring to mind educational institutions, and the piece could be commenting on these as a means of social control. In addition, it can be noted that the phrase "grassy knoll" has very particular political overtones, and whether the title is meant to reference to this is not known.

The third verse of the piece takes on a completely different narrative style, almost reminiscent of a sorrowful flashback, describing a friend or relative's heart attack at a seminar and the subsequent journey to the hospital, with the narrator attempting to assure and comfort him. This very disturbing third verse is for the most part sang in sad dissonance, with the final harmonica solo sounding all the more tragic and chaotic.

The second track "Tribal Ether" is very well described by its title, with the representative from Corwood moving onto elemental, tribe-like drums, while Alan Licht and Heather Leigh-Murray conjure up ethereal guitars, pedal steels and haunting, wordless vocals.

This album can be seen to be one of the most distinctive records in the already very diverse Corwood catalogue, and is certainly amongst the most impressive of the live albums. Its dark, haunting images and clashing instrumentation show a side of Jandek that we have not seen before, and is illuminating for anyone with an interest in this most unique of artists.

"Glasgow Sunday 2005" is available for purchase from Corwood Industries, P.O. Box 15375, Houston TX 77220.