Sunday, January 18, 2009

Jandek Reviews, Pt. 1: Six and Six

I've been listening to those Jandek albums for a while. I'm get the distinct impression that Jandek's style is so singular, if I'm going to review each album individually, I'm going to end up repeating myself a lot. I'll give it a shot anyways, but most of the reviews (at least until I get to some of his later albums when some he starts incorporating other musicians and starts varying his style a bit) will be short and to the point. With that in mind, here's part 1 of what will hopefully be a 10 part series, my review of Jandek's Six and Six.

As I had previously discussed, Jandek's music consists mainly of a single man playing a lone acoustic guitar while sing-whispering stream-of-consciousness lyrics.

The guitar sounds grossly out of tune (though in one of his two "interviews" Jandek claims it is not out of tune, but an open blues tuning). It is rarely if ever strummed, mainly plucked slowly, hardly, and generally arhythmically. Often the notes seemed to be selected at random, a slow and harsh cascade of random dissonant tones. The more his songs play, some semblance of reason emerges, and whether there is subtle, hidden rhyme or reason to his playing, or if I'm just being dragged into such an insular world that I'm developing a sort of musical apophenia, I honestly can't tell.

More central to Jandek's guitar than tuning, strumming, plucking, rhythm, or technical ability is the simple, basic, emotional gut-reaction to it. At times it is quiet and slow, creeping about in an almost suffocatingly vast empty space. As songs build, the plucking becomes harsher, louder, and faster. At first the notes seem to linger threateningly in the air, before coming alive, flying at you, and attacking.

Over this cacophonous guitar, Jandek sings and whispers lyrics that are surreal and nightmarish, that ache painfully of desperation. While the lyrics may maintain a certain level of nonsensicalness, they reek of something deeply personal. You might not know what he's singing about, but you get the distinct sense that whatever it is, it is so serious, so intimate, that you shouldn't be listening to them. That you've inadvertently walked in on something that wasn't meant to be heard by anyone, least of all, you.

He may never yell or scream, but Jandek's voice follows the same pattern as his guitar playing. He often sings in a hushed whisper that suggests a deep resignation, but just as the guitar turns from haunting to dangerous, that resignation turns into a thinly veiled, barely controlled rage. That seeming desperation gives way to a base fury, as his voice rises and that whisper turns into strained harsh singing.

The two basic ingredients to Jandek's music, his guitar and his voice, echo and hiss, sounding like they were recorded in a large empty room in an old house. The sound of the recording suggest a man, sitting alone in a room with little to no furniture, in a decaying house out in the vast prairies and scrublands of East Texas. The echoing of his guitar and voice sound almost oppressively vast and empty, as if Jandek and his guitar were the only things as far as the eye could see. A single man, with his guitar, out in a harsh, wide-open landscape.

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