Jandek: Khartoum

Daniel Spicer

In which the Texan maverick finally finds true happiness, overcomes misery and radiates love for all living things. Just kidding: he's still unhappy.



Label: Corwood Industries

Fans of Jandek who were horrified and disappointed when he emerged from nearly 30 years of self-enforced seclusion and anonymity to play Glasgow's Instal Festival in October 2004 (documented on the equally anomalous live release Glasgow Sunday last year) will probably be relieved to find that his first release since that notorious coming-out performance contains nothing new. Khartoum, Jandek's 43rd album since 1978, finds the Emo Phillips of outsider music pursuing familiar obsessions through familiar means. Thankfully, it seems the novelty of actually existing in the peripheries of the public gaze has not noticeably altered the prime motivations of this enigmatic "representative of Corwood Industries". In short, he still sounds pissed off.

Here, Jandek stumbles through eight pieces of fractured avant-blues, strumming the acoustic guitar in a loose free-time full of twitches and jerks and in what might charitably be called "found tunings", delivering harrowing, stream of consciousness monologues in that unmistakable voice that ranges from blank, resigned recital right up to an unbearable, tortured lowing.

Lyrically, his stark, confessional non-sequiturs tackle the usual preoccupations of loneliness, abandonment, desperation, and self-loathing and there's some genuinely poetic -- albeit distorted -- associations at work. "I Shot Myself" is an investigation into mental and physical dissolution (''I shot myself/ I can’t get up/ I'm beyond repair''), ending with an unexpected jolt: ''I shot myself/ And your mercy abounds/ Until the ice of your catapult'.'

The meandering title track contains choice snippets of Jandekian despair at the impossibility of maintaining relationships (''The combination of your not caring/ And my inability to comprehend/ Shot you out in the distant galaxy'') and the inevitable psychic damage incurred (''Make me a slow moving creature without complexities/ I don't want my mind to go a thousands places'').

Elsewhere, there are snatches of the elusive Jandek humour as on "New Dimension" where he intones the world's worst pick-up line with perfect comic timing: ''You're not married I presume/ I'm not looking/ But if you're not'… big pause here… ''Be careful/ I'm the vulnerable kind.'' It's intentionally funny, and delivered in a burst of self-awareness that begs the question, how much of any of it can we really take seriously?

There are many rabid Jandek fanatics who insist that all his recordings represent not just a singular artistic vision but an ongoing process of self-therapy; that Jandek is actually as miserable, borderline-suicidal and utterly hopeless as his songs suggest; and, moreover, that he has been consistently that way since the late '70s. But, surely, you have to ask yourself, is it really possible? Wouldn’t he have done something about it by now, one way or the other? Is it really possible to be so depressed for so long?

Could a man who manages to find the motivation to record and self-release album after album, year after year, really be struggling with the depths of mental illness suggested in "In a Chair I Stare": ''I’m at the mercy of my brain/ I can't control what appears/ I can’t control my reactions/ I'm stuck in a chair/ No one else around the place/ It's a crooked demise''? And is it really feasible that all this is due to some monumentally painful break-up: ''I guess we had a total communications breakdown/ The words were not received/ It doesn't matter where it came the rejection/ Stuck in a chair I stare"?

Clearly, the answer is no in every case.

Jandek is an artist, exploring the darker recesses of the human psyche, the pockets of despair and futility that most of us try not to visit too regularly. He is performing an age-old rite of exploration and exorcism -- a service for humanity. Sure, he may get a kick out of it, but you can be sure that the "I" that narrates his twisted stories of loss is not necessarily the artist himself, but merely the vehicle for storytelling. Jandek is singing the blues and everybody knows Muddy Waters wasn't really a Hoochie Coochie Man born on the seventh hour of the seventh day of the seventh month.

Maybe Jandek's been having the last laugh all along. Just don’t expect him to turn up unannounced to your barbecue this summer with a Jan and Dean record under his arm.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.