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.