Thursday, October 29, 2009
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
More catch-up! These are all 2009 releases.
The Bats - The Guilty Office (2009). OK, this was a 2008 release in New Zealand, but in the States, it was 2009. The Bats, led by Robert Scott, who plays bass in The Clean and is the primary songwriter [with the usual guitar and vocals] here, have a sweet slightly-psychedelicized folk-rock sound that manages to capture that ineffable kiwi-rock feel while reaching out to indie-folk touchstones like REM and the Byrds. This album isn't much of a deviation from the past, but considering that The Bats have been a going concern since 1982 and that this is only their 8th studio album, it's quite amazing how wonderful it is. Whatever it is that New Zealand puts in the water down there to keep their musicians creative far past the point where most have burnt out, I hope these guys keep drinking it.
Ben Reynolds - "England." It will become apparent at some point in the near future that I am a John Fahey fanatic. This was a free download from eMusic of a Fahey-influenced (or dare I suggest, Richard Thompson-influenced) fingerstyle guitarist with some serious chops. I intend to pick up the rest of this album. Awesome stuff.
The Clean - Mister Pop (2009). Speaking of kiwis with longevity, The Clean have been around since 1979, influenced everyone in indie rock from Pavement to Superchunk, and this is only their 7th studio album. And man, it's great, too, a mish-mash of The Clean's traditional Feelies-esque guitar pop, organ-driven psychedelia, and a folky slice-of-life songwriting that reminds me of the Go-Betweens. Oh, and there's their goofy sense of humor shining through all of the songs, too. Great, great, great stuff.
The Clientele - Bonfires On The Heath (2009). I love The Clientele, with their oh-so-tasteful guitar, whispery vocals, and twee nostalgia for a time-that-never-was (except perhaps inside Arthur Lee's head). This albums doesn't stretch out from their previous efforts, but it's a lovely album, anyway. As always, I suspect that the Clientele has more guitar solos in them, but they rarely do something so unrestrained as unspooling a guitar solo. The Pitchfork review discusses this album as an English coming-of-age sound, and perhaps that's the best way to listen to it: while reading David Mitchell's Black Swan Green.
Future of the Left - Travels With Myself And Another (2009). The Welsh band McLusky picked up the threads of punk and pushed it forward as a music genre that could still sound vital and interesting all these years later. Their lyrical sense, full of humor and sarcasm, was a major part of their style, but their music, with unexpected melody among all of the noise and rage, was also a boatload of fun. Future of the Left consists of McLusky's guitarist and drummer with a new bassist, and basically picks up where they left off and continue pushing forward with more experimental touches, lyrical boldness, and sheer wonder.
Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest (2009). When I wrote about Grizzly Bear some months ago, I praised their Friend EP as a great leap forward from the somewhat-stilted Yellow House. And then I put off buying this, their new release for some time. Having heard it now, I can say that it's another great leap forward from Friend, keeping the dramatic rock elements and sense of surprise that made the EP better than their last album. There's a sense of holistic purpose to these songs that sounds both orchestrated and organic, as if every member of the band is wholly committed to creating a song that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Monday, October 26, 2009
Music Library: Avett Brothers, Albert Ayler, Band of Susans, Borbetomagus, Camper Van Chadbourne, Derek Bailey
I have a lot of catch-up albums to burn through, but man, I need a break from the regularly scheduled material after spending a week with Jandek. So here we go!
Avett Brothers - Emotionalism (2007). Picked up on the recommendation of a friend who saw them at ACL Fest. I like about 3/4 of it, but the sappy ballads bring the album's momentum to a sudden stop every time. Perhaps it's part and parcel of my state as a bitter old git, but I think their emotionalism is better when turned towards regret and bitterness.
Albert Ayler - Lörrach, Paris 1966. This is a fantastic, beautiful, transcendent live album with Ayler & co. tearing down all the walls. Each piece starts with an iteration of the theme, nothing that an self-respecting mid-century brass band wouldn't know. But then it all turns into free-jazz pursuit of the ineffable. This is the emotionalism I was seeking. This marks the fourth time I've written about Ayler on this blog and I have yet to say why I like him so much. I still can't put it into better words.
Band of Susans - Love Agenda (1989). I've also written about the Band of Susans before. In short, I love their wall-of-skronk-guitar-sound and sense of melody through the din of noise, a tactic they learned from Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham and gave to My Bloody Valentine, among others. Great band, great album. I still don't have Veil, but this is four of five studio albums for me. Love the cover of "Child of the Moon," too.
Borbetomagus - Snuff Jazz (1990). Perhaps the most punishing of punishing avant-jazz in the world, Borbetomagus makes Peter Brötzmann sound like the Archies. This disc includes two live performances of near-unbearable squall and shriek that I can appreciate on an intellectual level while my ears beg me to move on. When I saw My Bloody Valentine a few months back, I had the experience that others have reported during "You Made Me Realise" where my mind imposes melody on the chaos during the sheer din of the loud section. However, Borbetomagus resists harmony. It is an unpleasant cleansing. Sound sounds so much better when it ends.
Camper Van Chadbourne - Camper Van Chadbourne (1987). As you might gather from the title of this project, it is the work of avant-garde guitarist Eugene Chadbourne and Camper Van Beethoven. I saw Chadbourne play a few times when I lived in North Carolina, and it was pretty great. He's not just a fun bluegrass/jazz/avant-garde stylist and an oversized personality, but the man plays the electric rake. That weird humor is on display on this album, which features not just a number of originals satirizing political events of the 1980s but also covers of King Crimson's "I Talk To The Wind," a medley of Zappa songs, two covers of Monk's "Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues," plus Byrds, Fugs, and early Pink Floyd. Fun!
Derek Bailey - Pieces For Guitar (1967). A major influence on Eugene Chadbourne, Bailey opened up doors for creators of atonal free music such as Jandek, Eugene Chadbourne, Borbetomagus, and Band of Susans. This is a lovely album of Bailey's earliest recordings from 1966 and 1967, which was released only a few years ago. Bailey sounds closer to conventional than anywhere else in his catalog on this album, but he also sounds like himself. Neat stuff.
This post almost killed me! When I first wrote about Jandek for Lost In The Grooves back in 2003 (ok, published 2004), he was quite a bit more obscure than he is now. I mean, people had been writing about him for some 20-something years at that point, but no one really knew who he was or why he was making this weird, discordant, almost transcendentally insular music. In the intervening time, though, there's been a Jandek documentary (Jandek On Corwood: check it the hell out) and the man has defied everyone's expectations by becoming a touring musician.
But despite his current status as an international man of mystery, I should talk about why I have 40 Jandek albums. I'm not sure if I have 40 of anyone else's albums, including Richard Thompson or Miles Davis, and I have a ridiculous number of Richard Thompson and Miles Davis albums. But for one thing, Jandek's albums are incredibly cheap. And he puts out a lot of them. There's another 20-something that's he's released that I don't have, and that's not including DVDs. But primarily I'm interested in the Jandek enigma.
So here's my entry on his 1986 album Blue Corpse for Lost In The Grooves, which is apparently part of the Google Books program.
I regret some of the language in that review. For instance, starting with the declaration that Jandek is a "flat-out weirdo" was wrong. Yes, he's strange, but there's something appealing and even a little naïve in his strangeness. I don't want to give readers the impression that they're going to hear anything approaching conventional folk or rock music, but it's not fair to claim that Jandek's sound is utterly alien. True, it can be quite a shock for ear unaccustomed to music of the avant-garde, but that's a far cry from the alien sounds I describe here. I didn't realize at the time, but Blue Corpse even has a second guitarist playing on it, a guy who knows standard tuning and can fingerpick fairly well. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I should start with the music.
Before I do so, however, I have to give props to Seth Tisue's definitive Jandek website, the best place on the web to learn about Jandek. He used to have mp3s from out-of-print albums (they're all in print now, so no more), and I recall fondly how I spent an afternoon clicking through song after song, learning how to distinguish between Jandek's different periods. Many, many thanks, Seth.
I should also mention that I know that Smith has been historically averse to being identified as "Jandek," apparently reserving that name for the music product and simply identifying himself as a representative of Corwood Industries, the record label that exists to put out Jandek albums. But I'm too far into the practice of calling him Jandek to stop now.
Ready For The House (1978). In his album-by-album review on Perfect Sound Forever, Aaron Goldberg theorized that Jandek was influenced by the punk aesthetic, noting the garish day-glo colors on the album cover and the DIY recording. The subject of the cover, an interior view with the shades drawn, is pure Jandek, establishing the what-I-do-is-secret philosophy that seemingly guided Jandek's career until roughly 2004. The music is also pure Jandek: guitar tuned to maximize the plonky strangeness, most songs containing a single chord with strings plucked at random, and Jandek's ethereal ghost-voice, which is simultaneously as breathy as Nick Drake's, as howly as David Thomas's, and as whispery as a breeze.
Six And Six and Later On (both 1981). Wikipedia notes that Jandek is most likely 65 right now, which would mean that when Ready For The House was released, he would have been 32. And it seems pretty likely to me that his albums are as achronological as the images of the man that grace the covers of his albums. The young man on the cover of Six And Six looks roughly 20 to me, meaning that this picture was some sixteen years old when Jandek's second album came out. Anyway, these albums are sort of analogous to Dylan's early acoustic-blues albums, albeit only if Dylan were a manic depressive who played a single wacky-tuned chord per song at the speed of molasses.
Your Turn To Fall (1983). More acoustic blues. But there's things that make this different than the prior two albums. First, on "John Plays Drums," Jandek is joined by a drummer named John. It's fair to say that John is not a well-trained drummer, choosing to pound on a single drum at a time with little regard for timing. "John Plays Drums" is the same song that was "Nancy Sings" on Chair Beside A Window, although with the drums and electric guitar, this version is raucous as hell. "New String" is, literally, the sound of Jandek tuning his guitar after adding a new string. The remainder of the album is played in the tuning he decides upon. He's added a lovely echo to his vocal, though, and most of the rest of the album passes well with some beautiful lyrics and that bizarro tuning. All of the tracks were almost certainly recorded at the same time with no retakes. You can hear the tuning go slightly out over the course of the album, which is exacerbated when on "About Today," Jandek tunes and detunes the strings while he plays and sings a cheery lyrics that is almost Beatles-esque.
Nine-Thirty (1985). Nine-Thirty is another all-acoustic and vocals album, but Jandek's guitar playing is more aggressive and strummed on some tracks. His low string is tuned way into the bass register, making a quite pleasing drone. Same open tuning throughout, again suggesting that the songs were recorded around the same time. "Wrong Time," with its frantic strumming, and "This Is A Death Dream," with its creepy lyrics, are the highlights for me.
Foreign Keys (1985). We've heard John. We've heard Nancy. Here we have The Jandek Experience Featuring John And Nancy. The first side is all John and Jandek, cranking out the Interstellar Discussion-inspired discordant blues. The second side is Jandek & John making music with Nancy on lead vocals. Getting back to my thoughts on time, Jandek would have been 40 the year this came out. He had almost certainly have been recording for some time, and it's certainly possible that not only were the different parts of these tracks recorded at vastly different times, but it could also be that Nancy and John were never in the same room at the same time. I don't have any evidence about this one way or another, but it seems wrong for Jandek to have a lot of friends involved in his project at the same time. His music is so private and personal that the idea of other people gathering to make Jandek albums, especially during this stage of his career, sorta creeps me out. If this were the case, I would think that Nancy's vocals were added later, because they couldn't have been added earlier than John's drums.
Blue Corpse (1987). For the first three songs, it's Jandek on guitar, Eddie on vocals, singing some of the saddest lyrics in the world. No Nancy. Then Eddie on guitar and Jandek on vocals (and unaccompanied harmonica) until the last song. After listening to not much other Jandek, this album sounds like an uncompromising vision of post-breakup depression. After listening to the entire oeuvre to this point, this sounds like his Rumours, a pop masterpiece in comparison to, say, Telegraph Melts. Eddie is named during "Down At The Ballpark," when Jandek calls out, "Take it, Eddie." Still my favorite Jandek album. Sample lyrics: "You took my success/Can you take my failure?"
You Walk Alone (1988). Wait, did I compare Blue Corpse to Rumours? Then this one is, I don't know, the Velvet Underground's third album? Two gorgeous, clean electric guitars playing roughly in tune throughout. I suspect both are Eddie or maybe there's another guitarist we don't know about. Random drumming that seems rhythmically related to the guitar's music. Jandek singing - in his breathy voice - beautifully throughout. Wonderful lyrics, often recalling some of his best songs from the prior albums. Absolutely wonderful, and maybe even accessible to people who would normally hate Jandek. Nah, I'm just kidding about that.
On The Way (1988) and The Living End (1989). Both of these have some of the same subdued quality of You Walk Alone, but both are a little more raucous than that album. Eddie is again on guitar through most of both albums, playing some of the most conventional blues that appear on any Jandek album. Eddie also sings many of the songs on the first one. On The Way even has another male singer on two songs! Maybe this guy is the same one who sang "Governor Rhodes" on Telegraph Melts. I called it for Eddie a few paragraphs back, but now I'm not quite so sure. On the first, Jandek is still breathy, still not using the more shouty Janky-style singing. The Living End features some of the shouty Janky vocals. On The Way has another version of "Message To The Clerk," which originally cropped up on The Rocks Crumble. And The Living End has Nancy back. Or maybe her sister Pat. I can't tell.
Twelfth Apostle (1993), Graven Image (1994), and Glad To Get Away (1994). Back to the shut-in acoustic blues. The lyrics on Twelfth Apostle mostly fail to engage me, although I may be suffering from Jandek fatigue at this point. Seth Tisue calls Twelfth Apostle the beginning of Jandek's late period and states that all three of these have more connection to the albums that came after instead of the ones that came before, but I suspect that he formed that opinion one album too soon. The twelfth apostle was Judas, and I guess it is somewhat interesting to hear Jandek wrestle with his faith. Twelfth Apostle also adds a cool delay effect to his guitar (maybe an Echoplex or Electro Harmonix 16 Second Delay pedal, given the pinging sound), making "Could Be Anyone," the first song where it appears, the highlight of that album. But the real different starts with Graven Image, which has Jandek using his older Janky voice much more frequently. When he used this voice in the past, it was almost always on loud songs, but here he uses it with quiet acoustic songs. The guitar tuning is similar to prior Jandek albums, but the playing is different. Where in the past he would pick around a single chord structure, on Graven Image his songs have a lot more movement to them. Some tracks are performed on accordion, which has never appeared on a prior Jandek album. He's a pretty competent accordion player to my ear. "Janky" is a tune of harmonica and silly rhymes about how clanky that Janky is. It's also, as should be clear, where I got the Janky moniker for his older voice. Glad To Get Away is similar to Graven Image, and that's a good thing.
White Box Requiem (1996) and I Woke Up (1997). White Box Requiem sounds like it was recorded before the last two albums. Here's my theory: all of the previous recording - save Graven Image and Glad To Get Away - were actually recorded in the early to mid 1980s. There was a flood in Houston in 1994, and some of Jandek's recordings were damaged. He cut Graven Image and Glad To Get Away right away, which is why his voice sounds more mature on those records (he was, after all, some 50 years old in 1995). White Box Requiem was on a tape he found while working his way through the mess. It's not a bad album, being a concept album of sorts about death, but it seems like a definite step back into the sound of 1985's Nine-Thirty. I have no theories about when I Woke Up was recorded. The vocalist on most of the early tracks is a man we haven't heard before who dryly declaims the lyrics on each song. Seth Tisue thinks that the guy (who might be named "Mike") is doing a Jandek impression on "Long Long," but I disagree. I think that's Jandek as an older man. "Long Long" and "Joab" have drums, and it sounds like Jandek's style of drums, which is somewhere between John's bash-the-shit-out-of-them method and Eddie's somewhat-shy-of-four-on-the-floor method. Lots of harmonica, some accordion, and tons of echo-ey effect on the guitar. The lyrics are more menacing than usual, and that's saying something. "Pending Doom" is Mike reciting lyrics while Jandek pounds on what sounds like a rubber bucket. Stand out!
New Town (1998) and The Beginning (1999). New Town is another album that could have been recorded pre-flood. Lots of acoustic shut-in blues recorded with heavy tape hiss. That hiss may be the result of the recording process or it might be water damage. Jandek's guitar playing, however, is rather expressive, more like his post-flood recording. His voice has that high breathiness of the younger Jandek, though. So hell, I don't know. Maybe he's a time traveler. Or maybe the voice is just an affectation. Decent songs, all with (and I just noticed this) different tunings. His older acoustic albums were all recorded with his guitar in the same tuning, but it changes often on this album. I hereby present the possibility that everything I've thought true about Jandek could be wrong. The first half of The Beginning is much like New Town, albeit without the tape hiss. Lots of Jandek acoustic guitar, lots of Jandek singing. The second half is a single 15-odd-minute piece without vocals on what Seth Tisue describes as "an almost confrontationally out-of-tune piano." He's not kidding.
I Threw You Away (2002), The Place (2003), and The Gone Wait (2003). Jandek's using his more mature Janky-style voice full-time now. The first two both contain longer songs with that distinctive Jandek guitar. His voice has completely lost the breathiness, but he yelps and croons and howls much more often now. This is also the first lacuna in my Jandek collection, as I don't have a copy of 2002's The Humility of Pain, which was released after I Threw You Away. I like the more recent Jandek guitar sound, but I also get tired of it a little more quickly than I do with the older albums. The Gone Wait has songs similar to these other two albums, but Jandek accompanies himself with a fretless bass throughout. This is a surprisingly great match, but I have yet to pick up the other albums where Jandek plays bass.
Missing: The Humility of Pain (2002), Shadow of Leaves (2004), The End Of It All (2004), The Door Behind (2004), A Kingdom He Likes (2004), and When I Took That Train (2005).
Glasgow Sunday (2005), Austin Sunday (2006), and Glasgow Friday (2008). Then in late 2004, Jandek began to play live shows. Glasgow Sunday is the first of these, recorded October 17, 2004 with Richard Youngs on bass and Alexander Neilson on drums. His rhythm section is excellent and Jandek plays slashing, howling guitar. The dynamic is slightly different on Austin Sunday, which captures his first North American show on August 28, 2005. Bassist Juan Garcia has some great back-and-forth with Jandek (and his style is a little more angular than Youngs's throbbing bass at the Glasgow show) while drummers Nick Hennies and Chris Cogburn played off of each other, making a beautiful wild sound. I was at this show. I can hardly listen to the live release, though, because I think I prefer my memories of what it was like. Glasgow Friday is a document of Jandek with Youngs and Neilson as his rhythm section again on October 14, 2005. I should point out that while all of the live albums I have feature Jandek on electric guitar, he has also been known to play acoustic, bass, keyboards, and piano live. This is clearly the older Jandek, which helps to date all of the recent releases as also being recently recorded. There is a clear continuum with the music that he has made since he released the three spoken word albums. All of his studio (well, non-live) albums since the turn of the century have featured voice (the older, more mature voice) and a single instrument.
The Myth of Blue Icicles and Skirting The Edge (both 2008). These are the only two later non-live albums that I have (I really am getting hung up on the use of the word "studio" to describe these, although they clearly were recorded in a studio with decent equipment, so I'm just an idiot, I guess). Both are acoustic guitar and vocals, and both feature songs that range from sorta long (5 - 7 minutes) to really, really long (23+ minutes). Both sound pretty similar to the recent Jandek work I've heard, but, as it should be clear by all the missing albums I'm posting, he's been quite prolific in the past decade. If I were more familiar with those other albums, perhaps I could hear more differences between them.