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Down in the Mirror: a Second Tribute to JANDEK

  various artists  
Release Date:
Reviewed by:
  Mr Pharmacist  

Who the heck is Jandek and how'd he rate two tribute albums, you might ask yourself. Go ahead, ask. You'll get no answer. It'll be only silence, the kind of quiet that moves, slips from creepy to sad quick like. Keep listening, you go a bit unhinged, made more aware that comforts like reality are just a ruse to keep the real terror at bay. Life is stranger than you ever want it to be. Those tiny doses of weird you let in for spice are just tips of a bigger, blacker iceberg. Your mind ain't even Titanic size. Stay in that place long enough, and those little threads that keep you okay start to fray. At that point before it all gives way, you're in Jandek territory.

Our man Jandek is no small mystery. Over the last thirty years or so, he's pushed nearly forty albums of fractured folk and outsider blues into the mind's eye. It's odd stuff. Untuned guitars, cordless strumming and a voice that sighs or scrapes. The lyrics move from funny, to sad, to just plain off. Dispatches from the urine soaked corner of a grey lighted mental ward. Sometimes, there's a drummer or extra vocalist. Usually, though, it's Jandek and his cracked head. All in all, it's music that evokes, not through chops or technique, that lonely head space we all reluctantly share. To me, at least at his best, Jandek puts to words and music (sort of music) the behind the eyelids shapes that slide through the borderland of despair.

How does the tribute stack up? First, it makes Jandek more accessible. Most of the artists here seem to have taken the kernel of tune embedded in the Jandek weird and spun Songs. These are bands and real musicians with choruses and tuned guitars. This is Jandek in the light of day. You can hum this stuff. Heck, your little sister might even wiggle to it. She might need to fancy black, though.

The artists are a varied lot. They go from fairly well known (Jeff "Friggin" Tweedy, anyone?) to the getting more well known (Okkervil River) to what the hey obscure (A Real Knife Head). There's a new folk vibe, an American hootenanny spirit, through most of it. There are stray tunes. A spoken word piece (sort of) and an almost hip-hop thing rears a head or two. It even veers toward punk in a spot. By and by, it keeps Jandek's weird folk feel in view. The whole adds to a nice, coherent sum. It feels like an album, not a Frankenstein shambles.

The biggest draw is the obvious respect and love each artist has for Jandek and, to a greater or lesser degree, their own inner Jandek. This is essential. To inhabit a Jandek tune, you might rearrange the furniture, but you gotta leave the atmosphere alone. Being in touch with the things Jandek is (either through choice and/or being locked in a closet by schizophrenic parents) can't be faked. You either hide or keep the eyeballs open. Nobody on this compilation, to my ears, is scared to walk a little of the Jandek path.

That's not to say something isn't inevitably lost in translation. The wacked intimacy of Mr. J is little seen. Same for Jandek's truly one of a kind expression. Nobody could sound like Jandek, even if they badly wanted to. To be honest, most of us wouldn't want to sound like the guy. Still, the comp is no substitute.

All in all, tributes like this are a good starting point. As an experiment, I played the CD for my wife. She liked it. The last time I played a Jandek album in the same room as her, she tried to lobotomize herself. So, a nice compilation of Jandek loving artists of various stripes make a nice, accessible starting point for you the uninitiated. Listen and go buy those Jandek albums. You'll never be the same..............

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