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.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Corwood 0739 - Jandek: "Ready for the House"

Initially released in 1978 under the name The Units, "Ready for the House" is a revelation on every level and is simultaneously a deeply personal reflection on the artist's life, fears, desires and loves, and a radical deconstruction of what music is and what it can be. From its initial dark, pulsing, jarring rhythms to its final, desperate death throe vocal, this is an album of monumental significance.

Beginning with the transcendent blues of "Naked in the Afternoon", "Ready for the House" can be characterised by the artist's wistful, ghost-like vocals, and his discordant yet deeply poetic and beautiful guitar sound which veers in an instant from rhythmic and regretful strums to jagged and spiteful single dissonant jabs.

"Naked in the Afternoon" shakes and lunges forward with an unknown indignation stuck in its throat; the artist intoning with sarcasm; "You are a cowboy when you wear those boots...". The imagery is startling, dark and difficult to explain, almost dream-like in both its presentation and content. "Cave in on you" is similarly chaotic in its use of imagery, and disturbing, disjointed guitar - describing nightmarish scene's of "the blind man" who is gently tap-tap-tapping at your door in the moonlight behind the sun.

As "Ready for the House" progresses, the content seems to become increasingly personal to the artist, and can be witnessed in both the raw emotion in the artist's voice and his guitar. In "What Can I Say, What Can I Sing", the artist seems to paint through impressionistic and blurred images the story of two lovers, who have had to separate; "The early morning sun shines through, and all my thoughts are shades of blue... I already left, it's no surprise, I saw it in your raining eyes".

This theme is continued in "First You Think Your Fortune's Lovely", the album's foremost example of this deeply personal story telling style. "First You Think Your Fortune's Lovely" begins with the same, long-forgotten chord used in "Naked in the Afternoon", although this time, the artist's voice rings out to become a part of this. The unspoilt beauty and world-weariness of this opening line will reverberate forever inside anyone who hears it; "Everything's so restless, the wind has come again". The artist then proceeds to paint a picture through flashbacks to an isolated childhood set against a backdrop of idyllic Americana... "First you think your fortunes lovely, and you fly out through the door... Grandmama I feel... so lonely, my rapture's painted on the floor..."

These recollections lead on to reflections on a lost love, as the artist describes, with what appears to be a great amount of pain the loss; "I see your eyes a-flashing, Thunder in your hair, I burnt a match for your complexion, The lights went out and you weren’t there". The piece goes on to describe the narrator "seated by the ranch [he's] owning, staring at the cellophane", a scene of similar solitude to the one from his childhood... although this time, however, the solitude, however unwanted, is at least on the narrator's own terms - "I found a chair beside a window, I found a place where I belong". The last passage of this song tells the story's greatest tragedy, however - describing in deeply poetic terms how this solitude came to be... The artist tells us; "I curse the day I found my freedom, you took the mirror from the wall, placed it in a single suitcase, pointed down our hollow hall".

The album's final track, "European Jewel" is similarly empassioned, and this song has proved to be one of the most enduring from "Ready for the House". This time there is a repeated, descending guitar riff interspersed between the passages of the song, while desperate spiritual cries dissipate as quickly as they appear. The album ends abruptly as the tape is cut off during the last line of "European Jewel", with the line "There's bugs in my brain, I can't feel any pain, just a shaking shake..." cut short on the last syllable. This ending fits in perfectly with the mood of the album, and sets the scene for the unparallelled, unhindered and uncompromising ideology behind Corwood Industries.

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