It’s been awhile since a package from Corwood Industries has graced my mailbox, and it feels like a visit from an eccentric uncle that you haven’t caught up with in awhile. Sure, there was a time when you used to drink beer together after work, and ponder the bigger questions that life has to offer. But then things change, time keeps moving and you lose touch. Do people still review Jandek albums or for that matter even read record reviews anymore? In the world of Jandek everything always seems to boil down to a question mark in the end, and that’s probably by design.
Since 1978 the entity known as Corwood Industries has been privately issuing a singular body of work mostly credited to the entity known as Jandek (save for the initial release Ready For The House which was credited to The Units, until a cease and desist letter resulted in a change of plans). Noted rock scribe Byron Coley in Spin Magazine described this debut as an old dead leaf blowing around the country painted dark purple. This was just the beginning, and there were plenty more purple leaves to come. The music issued forth at a steady pace from the mysterious Houston based Corwood PO Box, first as a singular form of avant folk blues that was not for the faint of heart. As more and more albums sprang forth, additional instrumentation was added, and occasional anonymous collaborators would pop out of the woodwork to add color and surprising twists. Until Jandek’s emergence from the shadows in 2004 to perform live, no one was even 100% sure if the man who appeared on the album covers was the person behind the sounds presented. It appears that the representative Corwood sent just happened to bear a striking resemblance.
I spent a lot of time in the late 1990’s staring at those blurry album covers, listening to those records, and looking for clues while pondering the mysteries and motivations of the artist behind it all. It even prompted me to assemble not just one, but two tribute albums, in part just to help me work out how other people interpreted the otherness of the sounds presented. Somehow, this all brings me back to Jandek’s latest, The Ray which in a lot of ways feels like a culmination of the work that Corwood started back in 1978. Consisting of one-hour length piece, it’s also by my estimation the closet the artist has come to something resembling psychedelic rock. The instrumentation which seems to consist of drums, bass, guitar, and synthesizer that swirl and churn like a maelstrom around that artist’s anguished vocals which read one part twisted inner monologue, and one part conversation with God. The music throughout the piece is ever changing, yet ever the same; it feels like the musical equivalent of driving in a blizzard. While the lyrics telegraph feelings of isolation, deep psychic wounds, and a desperate longing for escape before the narrator seems to resign himself to the will of the divine at the end of the movement. Though it’s hard to say for sure, one gets the feeling the artist played all the instruments on this one, and seems to have taken a lot of the lessons from his decade plus experience playing live with various collaborators to forge something new from the musical language created on such seminal Jandek albums as The Rocks Crumble and Interstellar Discussion.
It’s always tempting to read into such a singular statement as a signal that Jandek’s days of music making may be drawing to close, but fans have been thinking that since the cacophony of “The Electric End” that closed 1987’s Lost Cause album, or the then out of character solo piano piece that provided a coda to 1999’s The Beginning. In 2003, Corwood promised the makers of the documentary film Jandek on Corwood that the future would be surprising. Turns out that it was, and I have a feeling that it will remain so, especially if albums as strong as The Ray keep issuing forth from a certain Texas based PO box.
Buy The Ray from Corwood Industries.