Press for Down In A Mirror - A Second Tribute To Jandek

From pitchforkmedia.com (6/7/05) Rating 7.6 by Matthew Murphy

"It's been a wild ride lately for Jandek and his small but devoted fanbase, as the past couple of years have seen an unprecedented level of activity from the legendarily reclusive Texan musician. Jandek has been prolific since his 1978 debut Ready for the House, but in the wake of Chad Friedrich's well-received 2003 documentary Jandek on Corwood the singer has ramped up his production, releasing four new albums in 2004 and two already in 2005. Most startling of all, however, has been Jandek's recent series of three (so far) live performances in Scotland and England, the first-known such concerts of his career. These appearances have sent almost literal shockwaves through his fervent fan community; the live dates serving to radically demystify the man and his abstruse, fascinating music. Though much about him remains cloaked in mystery, these live performances have put some of the more outlandish theories about his work ("He died in Vietnam, and his family is putting the records out as they can afford it") to rest, while simultaneously sending the strong signal that Jandek remains now what he always has been: a passionate, dedicated artist whose primary intent is for his music to speak for itself.

At first glance Jandek might not seem like a ripe candidate for one tribute album, let alone two, due to the idiosyncratic, deeply personalized (a cynic might add atonal or unmusical) nature of his sound. But as Summersteps Records proved on their first such collection, 2000's Naked in the Afternoon, there's something about the unvarnished emotion and dissolute, blank-slate structures of Jandek's songs that allows the covering artist enough space to add a new distinctive voice while somehow retaining each piece's essential Jandekness. And Down in a Mirror-- anchored by stellar performances from its bigger name contributors like Jeff Tweedy, Six Organs of Admittance, and the Mountain Goats-- again dips generously into the vast Corwood songbook, bringing rich and surprising rewards to the surface.

As evidenced by Tweedy's melodic opening version of "Crack a Smile", most of the acts here have sensibly transposed Jandek's unorthodox chords and phrases into decidedly more conventional song structures. (Though some stalwart fans have apparently had the patience to attempt a faithful transcription of Jandek's bizarre, dissonant guitar tabs, this has always struck me as a fool's errand.) For his cover of "The Dunes"-- the original of which is one of Jandek's harrowing a cappella pieces-- Sebadoh's Eric Gaffney adds darkly atmospheric folk instrumentation, while Six Organs' Ben Chasny beautifully captures the bottomless solitude of "I'll Sit Alone and Think About You" utilizing his trademark Takoma-bred virtuosity.

Other standouts here include Acid Mothers Temple's Makoto Kawabata recasting "Babe I Love You" in dazzling, sky-high drones, Okkervil River's impassioned take on the obsessive "Your Other Man", and Brother JT-- a man eminently deserving of his own tribute album-- giving "Message to the Clerk" a delightfully dizzy psych-folk spin. Not surprisingly most of the contributors here tend to fall into the scrambled singer-songwriter archetype, with Home for the Def's goofy hip-hop/rockabilly medley of "Cave In On You/European Jewel" probably qualifying as the set's biggest stylistic leap.

Unfortunately, the voices contained here are also universally male, giving the listener the perhaps not entirely inaccurate impression that Jandek's fanbase is predominantly a boy's club. (What, you're telling me that women aren't much into spooky loners anymore?) This uniformity of voice and style does risk monotony over the course of the album's 21 tracks, but let's face it, the same thing could be (and has been) said about Jandek's entire back catalog, and that certainly doesn't appear to be bothering his productivity any."

dustedmagazine.com review by Charlie Wilmoth

"Summersteps’ second record of covers of songs by Texas recluse Jandek doesn’t actually sound much like him, which is probably a blessing. Jandek’s sighing vocals and mangled guitar chords can sometimes be pretty tough going anyway, even for fans like me; and they’re usually a couple small changes from being completely awful, even when they’re great.

Jandek wrote all the songs on Down in a Mirror, of course, except for Dirty Projectors' pleasant crooned tribute "With U Icon (An Homage)." But aside from the lyrics, Jandek's trademark moves are rarely audible (an exception being A Real Knife Head’s “Just Die,” which sounds like Jandek playing free jazz). Most of the songs are relatively straightforward, rough-and-ready indie rock songs. The most obvious Jandek features here (out of tune guitars, lo-fi touches) are features he shares with a thousand unknown indie bands, so they don't even remind me of Jandek most of the time.

The fact that Down in a Mirror doesn't really sound like Jandek is, like I said, not problem, but it means that the results depend much more on the artists who play the covers than on Jandek's words or musical ideas. A number of these tracks feel tossed off, and not in the sickly, creepy way Jandek's music can seem tossed off.

Still, there are a number of wonderful covers here, some by the disc's best-known artists. Wilco's Jeff Tweedy turns "Crack A Smile" into a whispery, breezy pop song with a soaring mellotron solo. Ben Chasny's lovely keening vocals on Six Organs of Admittance's "I'll Sit Alone and Think a Lot About You" capture the desperation and loneliness of Jandek's music without imitating his style. Led by Jordan Geiger's tick-tock piano, Okkervil River's "Your Other Man" features a vamp that simultaneously sounds tense and yet half-improvised. Rivulets' "Sung" is impossibly lo-fi – it sounds like it was recorded on a dictaphone – but tiny, mysterious bits of guitar and singing manage to emerge from the murk.

Some Jandek fans will enjoy these covers, but mostly they're just unassuming indie rock songs, so you don't need to like Jandek's brand of queasy, shivering late-night music to appreciate them. Down in a Mirror proves that Jandek's style can't really be imitated, which is quite a tribute indeed, when you think about it."

mundanesounds.com review by Joseph Kyle

"How do you pay tribute to an enigma? Is it possible to even begin to recreate that which is impossible to imitate? In the case of a musician like Jandek, it's tempting to say that any form of reproduction of his music is inherently going to be inferior to the original. But as this is Jandek and not The Three Tenors, determining what is inferior and what is superior is a rather relative concept. That's why Down In A Mirror: A Second Tribute to Jandek is somewhat fascinating. Here's a tribute record to an artist who's so obscure, many hardcore music fans haven't heard of him. His music is definitely an acquired taste; referring to it as "outsider art" is both apt and extremely generous. Even if you wanted to check out Jandek's music, you'd still have to do a lot of work to do so.

In its own way, Down In A Mirror serves a greater purpose. More people have dismissed Wilco than have ever heard of (or will ever hear) Jandek, and The Mountain Goats and Six Organs of Admittance have hipster name recognition, so getting those artists involved has probably helped give this release a bit more visability. It's almost a moot point--and terribly unfair--to attempt to describe these songs, because a. you've never heard the original versions and b. even the worst song on Down In A Mirror is more than likely better than the original version. You should still check this record out out, though, because Okkerval River's "Your Other Man," Acid Mothers Temple's Kawabata Makoto's "Babe I Love You" and "With You Icon (An Homage)" by The Dirty Projectors are quite fascinating. Oh yeah, and Jeff Tweedy appears here, too, performing with his son, Spencer. I guess Jandek's fun for the whole hip family, then?

The world, it ain't ever gonna get Jandek. It probably ain't gonna hear him, either. So Down In A Mirror might be one of the few times you're exposed to the man, and it ain't a bad thing. Beats the hell out of another Beatles tribute, don't ya think?"

outsideleft.com review by Alex V. Cook

"I am not a man with a lot of soapboxes. Taxes don’t really get under my skin, I gave up traffic rage ages ago, and I really don’t mind waiting in line all that much. I don’t even care that much if I’m getting ripped off or charged too much if you are sneaky enough about it so that I don’t notice. To the victor the spoils, I say. That all said, there are a couple isolated issues that I do feel passionate about: people should spend more time with their kids, Jackson Pollock COULD draw and was very good at it, and I am an unabashed Jandek fan. Jandek is a notorious (former) recluse cult blues musician from Houston who has turned out 30 some odd self-released albums since 1978 of harrowing darkness and bare-belly vulnerability. The thing that separates him from the rest is that he has no truck for things like tuning or key or other tethers holding back the music world from real exploration. It makes for difficult listening, but I think there is genius in those weird hills. Listening to Jandek albums is a lot like wearing new shoes, they need to break you in before you become comfortable with them, but once you do, nothing else fits quite as well.

I stated he is a former recluse, since for all of his tenure until last year, his only contact point with this plane was a Houston PO Box and one interview a stalker/journalist secured by staking out his house. But in the last year, the ghost has emerged to play two festival performances at avant-garde music fetes in Scotland (word around the listserv is that he has retired from his day job, so now he is free to get his freak on without repercussions) and the interest in him has surged. A documentary on the man “Jandek on Corwood” (poignant in that Jandek himself was not involved in it in any way) is making the rounds (available on NetFlix if you live in an arthouse-deficient burg), and the fine folk at Summersteps have emerged with their second tribute album to the man.

The first was, as I understand, more of a love letter from fans with four-tracks, but this one has involvement from a number of big names in the music world. I am comfortable enough with my sexuality to admit I have a giant fanboy crush on Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, so to have him open this collection with a sweet version of “Crack a Smile” only makes it worse. The new-Wilco Okkervil River also turns in a ghost town rendition of “Your Other Man” his lonesome echoey croon and guitar work probably coming closest to the original, except that OR hangs on to the quaint notion of singing and playing in tune. Brother JT gets all early Dylan on a rave-up of “Message to a Clerk” and Six organs of Admittance, another current obsession of mine, shows up with a dreamily lo-fi “”I’ll Sit Alone and Think a Lot About You” which I maintain is somewhat of a thesis statement for Jandek. The Mountain Goats make “White Box” a spooky lovechild between the two.

The love for Jandek is a lonely and fierce one, so this comp manages to transcend the unknown-artist-delivers-crap-track barrier plaguing most things in the Various Artists section. George Parsons intones a spoken “Aimless Breeze”, a track off of one of Janky’s own even-hard-for-me-to-handle spoken word albums, to great effect, including mimicking some of the mic tics that marred/made the original. Lewis and Clarke provide the prettiest song on the album with their cover of “Nancy Sings” making me want to seek these characters out whereas Japanese avant-garde notable Kawabata Makoto provides the wierdest, a Master Musicians of Jajouka hornets' nest take on “Babe I Love You” performed on the hurdy-gurdy. It sounds cool, great, in fact, and nothing like the original, but that’s all right. (except that now I have a sudden urge to seek out a hurdy-gurdy on eBay.) Wayside Drive get their Velvet Underground on with the resplendent “The Spirit” while Home for the Def turns “Cave in on You” into a goofy but engaging Soul Coughing-like not-quite-rap.

An added bonus for me is that there is a track by someone I used to know in real life, making this all the more insular a pleasure, that track being Ross Beach’s twangy spooky “Van Ness Mission” I wish I had been clued into his Jandek lurve back when we ran in similar circles, so I could have had a brother in weirdness. But then, that’s what being a Jandek fan is like. The music is so singular and off-putting that you feel you must be the only person in the world that is into this. It doesn’t even register as “music” for other people, its a line in the sand, and tales of using a Jandek album to clear out a party are common. This album may not prepare you for the loner’s errand of becoming a Jandek fan, but it is an excellent collection of songs, done with love and reverence.

More than you would ever want to know about Jandek is available here at Seth Tisue’s mind-bogglingly comprehensive fan site, should your interest be piqued, and your need to alientate yourself further from the sheep listening to their "music" arrise."

All Music Guide Review by James Christopher Monger

Cult figures rarely achieve a truly respectable level of "cultness" while they're still among us. This is not true with Jandek. Whether or not his insular mythology is a product of a very patient team of publicists or is as genuine as many perceive, it's undeniably that after 27 years and 40-plus records he's still producing albums with a blurred photograph of himself on the front and the address to his ubiquitous Corwood Industries on the back. On A Second Tribute to Jandek: Down in a Mirror, Summersteps Records have gathered some interesting artists to interpret Jandek's monotone tales of regret and lo-fi bursts of Roky Erickson-esque catharsis. Wilco mouthpiece Jeff Tweedy fills "Crack a Smile" with dreamy synths and languid pedal steels; the Marshmallow Staircase, Kawabato Makoto, and A Real Knife Head go the psych-rock route, disassembling each track with absolutely no precision, resulting in a veritable mind melt of cacophony; and Six Organs of Admittance, the Mountain Goats, and Lewis & Clarke fill their renditions with the kind of hushed bedroom aesthetic that Jandek has been pioneering since his debut in 1978. This is true "outsider" music done justice by all involved, and it serves as a surprisingly reverent introduction to one America's last productive eccentrics.

tinymixtapes.com review by Justin Spicer Rating 3/5

"When deciding how to tackle writing about another Jandek tribute album, or even explaining Jandek himself, I figured it would be easier if I just told you my views on Jandek and how I view his "music." I dig Jandek, there's no denying it. I view his music as transcending boundaries. It's mind over matter; it's art over substance. And though I have no doubts that what Jandek does is very calculated and deliberate (if anything spontaneous can be deemed calculated), what sounds normal to him is not normal to many other folks -- fans and critics alike. Jandek means many different things to many different people, and I'm sure if he ever started a religion, his following would be greater than the number of his fans.

So when taking on the challenge of listening to a Jandek tribute, I prepared myself for the unexpected. There where bands I'd never heard along side some stalwarts of indie rock. The only thread connecting these bands was undying respect and love of Jandek. What lies within the 21 tracks is some of the greatest and worst songs I have ever heard. Down in a Mirror is easily dissected into two categories: (1) artists who have taken Jandek's lyrics and imagery, set it to beautiful music, and created something distinctly their own, and (2) artists who have taken Jandek's penchant for the unexpected and completely turned it on its head, rendering the dark imagery useless and painful to digest.

The good is fantastic. Jeff Tweedy leads off the disc with "Crack a Smile." Tweedy does nothing more than sing Jandek's dirge over a rhythmic electric guitar, mellotron and bass as son Spencer keeps the beat. Tweedy has found the core of "Crack a Smile," not allowing too much experimentation to get in the way of beautifully dark lyrics. Okkervil River follows suit with the mellow "Your Other Man." Again, the band chooses to put emphasis on the lyricism and soul of Jandek with a meticulously crafted song hinged on dark instrumentation and a howl unmatched by any of the other artists. Perhaps the greatest gem on Down in a Mirror falls in the lap of Pennsylvania-based Lewis & Clarke. The delicate "Nancy Sings" is given a makeover in sound, but not in heart. The lyrics are the focal point, but it's hard to ignore the sweet strums of guitar and ethereal voice wafting with ease from speakers to air. These great standouts aren't enough, unfortunately, to save us from the bad.

And the bad -- well, it's bad. The Marshmallow Staircase's take on "Down in a Mirror," the CD's namesake, is unintelligible. Everything meanders into one giant cluster of noise that never breaches Jandek's brooding lyrics or signature musical chaos. "Van Ness Mission" is Ross Beach's unsuccessful attempt to take a Jandek song and turn it into a dark poppy goo. All the little nuances stuffed inside the mundane riff are not near enough to make anyone see past this poor blues-rock failure.

In the end, Down in a Mirror is a mixed bag of great musicianship and idealism lost amongst bland-tasting pieces. As wonderful as it is to pop in a CD and hear great renditions of Jandek songs performed by Jeff Tweedy, Six Organs of Admittance, and Jack Norton -- each with a style and appreciation all their own -- it's hard to stomach an entire album with the amount of filler and run-of-the-mill tracks housed on this tribute. So, to summarize: the good is great, the bad is terrible, and the rest is as boring as the pastures of Kansas."

Interview with Eric Schlittler (Summersteps Founder) about Down In A Mirror - A Second Tribute To Janek by sctas.com

Summersteps Records' second tribute to the mystery many know as Jandek.

Many of us aren't exactly sure who purchases the records that Corwood Industries releases to begin with, so for an independent label such as Moscow, PA's Summersteps to release a tribute to the somewhat unknown artist - it's quite bold.

In July (official release date is 06.21.05 - but you can get yours now), Summersteps will release the second tribute (limited to 1,000 copies) in 5 years to Corwood Industries and their lone artist Jandek. Building on the first dedication which included contributions from Low and Bright Eyes, the latest album (Down In A Mirror) features takes from Six Organs of Admittance, Okkervil River and Wilco's Jeff Tweedy.

Summersteps founder Eric Schlittler shines some light on the issues.

+ How many submissions did you dig through to get to the twenty you kept? (track 21, "With U Icon (An Homage)" is an original by the Dirty Projectors)

I haven't counted exactly, I would say that there's at least three more CDs (75 minutes each) worth of outtakes between the submissions that did not make the cut for Vol. I and Vol. II

+ How long did it take from initial decision to compile a second tribute until you were ready to package the album?

Work began in earnest last spring (2004), so one year.

+ Some big names came aboard for this tribute (Six Organs of Admittance, The Mountain Goats), were there any (other artists) you tried to get but couldn't?

Well, we asked alot of different musicians and others volunteered tracks as well. Between both volumes, I'd say I'm grateful to all of the artists who submitted. I would've obviously loved to hear covers from Robyn Hitchcock, Roky Erickson, Jeff Magnum, Will Oldham, Smog, David Berman, Steve Malkmus, Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, The Residents and Tom Waits just to name few, but it just didn't happen. Maybe if there's a next time.

+ Jeff Magnum - can you find him?

Well actually, I heard from Pete Erchick (bass player, Olivia Tremor Control), he did express an interest in contributing to Vol I. but it did not come to fruition.

+ The cover photograph, again furnished by Corwood, is of a very oddly-windowed building. Do you suppose this is the factory (Corwood Industries)?

I can't be sure, it could be. It's a pretty cool looking structure at any rate. I think you can read alot into that cover photograph. It looks like a face, doesn't it? It seems to me that the message is that, Jandek is everywhere. If you look At the cover of Naked In the Afternoon, it is very much sending the message that Jandek is dead. The new volume's cover is speaking quite the opposite in my opinion. When I spoke to Corwood on the phone recently, they were very appreciative of the fact that i could visualize The differences in the series of photos submitted by corwood from Vol. I to Vol. II.

+ Okkervil River's cover of "Your Other Man" comes eerily close to the Jandek sound, while Home For The Deaf choose the stop & go breakbeat route - what would you say was the oddest submission?

I think Kawabata Makoto's is pretty far out, especially considering he was tackling one of Jandek's most accessible tracks

+ Who is this Gary Pig Gold gent that composed the liner notes?

He's a writer, who has been writing about Jandek for many years. He also is in the Jandek On Corwood film. He approached me about doing some liner notes. It seemed like a good fit.

+ Would you mind a question about the royalties with Corwood? Not specific numbers, just the relationship and if they were kind about the projects.

Corwood has never asked for any royalties concerning the tribute CDs. They have always been extremely helpful in providing photos and whatever else was required.

+ Jandek has a discography that could make many artists jealous - is there a good chance to expect a third (or more) volume of the Summersteps tribute?

Perhaps - but not for a while. We did the first volume 5 years ago and perception changed so much in the last few years, we decided to do volume II to present how those changes would affect how the music was interpreted. As well as folks who now were incorporating the influence of Jandek both as an aesthetic and an artist that was becoming something much deeper. Now there are new developments with Jandek as far as live performance goes and his participation in being a public figure, so we will see. I can see the work of Jandek going in many new interesting and exciting paths. Perhaps even more collaboration within the art and rock communities so we will see what that will do for Jandek's music.