The first Jandek record I fell in love with was 1986's Telegraph Melts. With that album, I discovered the cliché that every album by this super-recluse songwriter sounds the same is a somewhat lazy assessment. The stereotype of Jandek’s unvarying style began with the albums on which he gained initial cult reverence, such as Ready For The House and Six And Six: musty, morose, and outright discomforting confessionals delivered in an atonal near-song, while detuned chords splattered this basement troubadour’s creeping misery. And while much of Jandek’s work has worked on some variation of this disturbed valor, the psyched-out burst of Telegraph Melts, complete with female vocals and pounding drums, recalled the most mysterious pagan psych-punk album drugged up from some occultist's record racks.
Although in a much more subtle and less cacophonous manner, this year’s The Ruins Of Adventure finds Jandek continuing to shuck his audience's assumptions. On this album, we find Sterling Smith (as he is believed to be known) alone with a fretless bass, and the lack of the almost-melodic tinniness of his usual guitar makes for a more broad and confrontational record. Ruins feels warmer in its fidelity this time around as well; the damp, unrenovated oubliette one can picture acting as the studio for a record like Ready For The House has been traded for comparatively more professional pastures here. That’s not to say Ruins is any less intimate and personal. Like all Jandek albums, there's little ego and zero artifice. As Jandek progresses over unrestrained figures on his bass and spouts his sub-beat proclamations, it elicits the same mystery and dissonance that has either endeared or aggravated those who have come across this subterranean legend.
Perhaps like most releases in his catalog, The Ruins Of Adventure, while uncommon on some levels, is still a very difficult album to discuss at length. It’s a laughable understatement to call Jandek’s output prolific (this album is number 49), and the stark minimalism and extremely despondent disposition of his work, both musically and lyrically, is rampant through each of his records, making much of his discography feel like compacted sets of similarly-themed, cohesive outbursts. Opener “The Park” sets out with its narrator’s creation of what seems a rather pleasant means of personal escape with his own park, but the shrouded and jarring pounds of the bass coupled with his bitter delivery, especially the lines “I’ll sit up straight and keep my mind on you/ You came and took control/ You’ll tell me what to do,” implicitly creates a dour and threatening aura. The familiar vindictive and belligerent persona is unsurprisingly explored again on “Bluff Brink” (“You create all your disabilities/ You feel good about your wasting away”), while “Completely Yours” details an abnormal obsession for a loved one that comes across as more destructive than compassionate (“Please don’t ignore me/ I’m your very best friend/ I’ll be here forever/ You can count on that”).
Because of Jandek’s glaring idiosyncrasies in both his vocal delivery (an atonal moan that seems to shift pitch without reason) and his approach to the bass (the usual conglomeration of appalling tones which feel like free-jazz gone misanthropic and sluggish), there’s a gut feeling of possible madness that’s either deceptively feigned or all too real. The next-to-nothing information on Jandek makes it nearly impossible to gauge whether or not there’s a discomforting freak-show notion at work, but with such an intimately perplexing persona setting itself so upfront in the music, it’s hard not to be naturally intrigued and continually fascinated. The Ruins Of Adventure can’t be recommended or even assessed in the same way the majority of albums we cross in our daily lives. Like all of Jandek’s albums, it’s a distressingly difficult, yet unequivocally unique listen, and there’s much more logic at work than the knee-jerk detractors would have you believe. Likewise, it’s an album that’s not necessarily an "essential" artifact, but one in which you will indulge should you let it enter your sphere.
1. The Park2. Bluff Brink3. Completely Yours4. Mysteries Of Existence5. The Ruins Of Adventure