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.