Khartoum makes me almost positive of one thing: Jandek's probably seen Jandek on Corwood, the 2004 documentary in which critics, record store clerks, and other personalities postulate about his personal life and wax exultant about his music. There's a self-ironizing awareness here of the expectations, suspicions, and fantasies that listeners bring to the table when they sit down with a Jandek album, and just as Stephen Daedelus' developed capacity to distance himself from his own persona and laugh at the fiction of self-mythologizing prods us to sympathize with him in the final pages of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Jandek's newfound ability to accept and play off of his role as a public figure makes Khartoum a profoundly amiable effort.
Amiable's a relative term, of course — Jandek still plays the blues, and he still plays them atonal as fuck, each guitar note grinding against notions of scale and harmony like the bones in an aged cottonpicker's arthritic knees. Sonically, Khartoum acts as a perverse form of soul music, using sinister intonations to communicate visceral emotion. Both acoustic guitar and voice (the only two instruments that confront us this outing) barge into the frame with drunken bluster, slurring notes and syllables to the point that we can't take anything straight. When Jandek blurts, "Be Careful/ I'm the vulnerable kind/ I like to hurt myself" with a laconic drawl in "New Dimension," he seems acutely aware of the lines as over-the-top oversimplifications of the sort of Romantic/masochistic/withdrawn axis on which listeners often place his music. Khartoum certainly deals in a poetics of pain, but it's a different pain than we're used to hearing from Jandek; he now seems to be wincing at the communicative process rather than the feelings he's communicating.
As with any Jandek release, Khartoum might ultimately be more fun to think about than it is to listen to. In fact, the album seems to encourage this sort of response, as its attempts at gut-level communion are constantly diffused by an ironic, conflicted tone, creating the sense that all of this howling at the moon is actually a fruitless exchange. In another light, it's actually a bit refreshing that all of this raw emoting doesn't burden itself with any direct Message, and this assault on intentionality certainly adds an interesting wrinkle to Jandek's oeuvre. For the cynics who reduce Jandek's art to schtick and view his catalogue as a series of lazy recyclings, this record is the show-'em-some that's been two decades in the making, a point where Jandek acknowledges the ridiculousness of his own myth, but still clings to his Jandek-ness as he does so.
1. You Wanted to Leave
3. I Shot Myself
4. New Dimension
6. In a Chair I Stare
7. Move from the Mountain
8. Fork in the Road