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.

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