In “On My Own Way,” the opening track of his forty-sixth release, What Else Does the Time Mean, Jandek sings, “I don’t need a window to see what’s outside.” This lyric embodies the Houston, Texas-based musician, who has remained largely anonymous since releasing his first record, Ready for the House, in 1978. By shying away from interviews and live performances, Jandek has left his identity up to the listener — his persona is idealism rather than musical prophet. And it may be that the myth behind the man is what keeps people coming back.
Still, chances are good that the same handful of people who’ve bought Jandek’s previous records are the ones who will buy What Else Does the Time Mean. And the truth is that his forty-sixth record isn’t any different from his previous work. Right from the beginning, this is a slapped-together album. The only redeeming quality would be its stream-of-consciousness approach, if that stream of consciousness were worth listening to.
Still, Jandek seems to keep creeping up from below the underground (thanks in large part to the Internet), and that’s helping to pique the interest of more listeners. What could be better than an artist who runs his own secretive “industry” (his label, Corwood), has only given one interview (it was sometime in the mid-’80s), has garnered the praise of indie-rock giants such as Thurston Moore and Kurt Cobain, and has in three decades amassed a back catalog that’s bigger than most Americans’ music collections? (He’s already released Glasgow Monday, the follow-up to this album.)
Jandek is made out to be the ultimate DIY role model, but it’s not clear that even matters to him. Whether one person or five hundred people buy his records, Jandek is going to keep putting them out — and, because of the buzz surrounding him, somebody is bound to buy them. Listeners who relish the experimental notions of John Zorn and Karlheinz Stockhausen will revel in the discomfort that Jandek brings to the table on What Else Does the Time Mean. He coats the amplifier with delays ringing vibrantly in and around the half-spoken-word singing attempts throughout compositions, which are anywhere from four to sixteen minutes long. For the experimental artist, he’s an inspiration. But anyone who’d rather listen to pop records may cringe upon hearing What Else Does the Time Mean.
Jandek isn’t offering anything here that he hasn’t offered already, but records such as What Else Does the Time Mean will continue to be shipped from Corwood Industries while the rest of us wonder what Corwood Industries really is. And Jandek’s mystery will be carried on until long after he stops making music, because the music isn’t the most crucial aspect of Jandek, anyway; the mystery is.
Trailer for the Jandek on Corwood documentary