Various Artists : Down in a Mirror: A Second Tribute to Jandek

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Jandek is a myth among rock critics. A legend, if you will. He’s made one public appearance in his twenty-something years as a recording artist, yet few were there to say they actually saw it. His name is dropped frequently, yet there don’t seem to be that many people actually listening to the reclusive songwriter. I, myself, have only heard selections from the man’s large back catalogue, and the best word I can come up with to describe his music is “weird.” Not too imaginative, I suppose. But take pity on me. There’s just so much. And quite frankly, it’s not exactly driving music.

Yet, when you take 21 reputable indie artists and get them to cover Jandek’s music, the result is something much more digestible, palatable and fun. There are several big names on this compilation (Jeff Tweedy, Mountain Goats, Okkervil River) as well as some lesser known acts (Live Show Rabbits, Kawabata Makoto, Pothole Skinny), making for a mixed bag of interesting takes on Jandek’s work. But overall, the general outcome is one that many, Jandek fans and non-fans alike, will take to easily.

Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy opens the tribute with his beautiful, pastoral take on “Crack a Smile,” sounding less like Wilco than a baroque pop act of the `60s. Eric Gaffney, a onetime Sebadoh member, plays “The Dunes” as a lo-fi folk number, though his off-key voice gets somewhat off-putting at parts. Okkervil River plays a tense, American gothic version of “Your Other Man,” which is just one more great song to add to your Okkervil iPod playlist, along with this year’s fantastic Black Sheep Boy. Brother JT’s “Message to the Clerk” is the first identifiable instance of any artist on here actually sounding like Jandek (to my ears, anyway) while Home For the Def gets the furthest from Jandek’s sound with their take on “Cave in on You.”

The best results are by those who reveal the true beauty in Jandek’s songs, rather than play an ironic reworking a la HFTD. The previously mentioned tracks by Tweedy and Okkervil Rivers are brilliant, as is the lovely take on “I’ll Sit Alone and Think About You” by Six Organs of Admittance. The Mountain Goats’ “White Box” is stripped-down and fuzzy, but in its simple form outdoes some of the more elaborate tracks.

The deeper into the record you go, the weirder it gets, as recognizable song structures seem to be replaced by noise, absence of sound and just plain oddness altogether. It’s a really long compilation, so those that aren’t feeling so brave might fare well to stick to the first half. Those who wish to brave the second will find less accessible but more adventurous fare. It may not all sound like Jandek, but then again, what really does?

Similar albums:
Various Artists – Naked In the Afternoon: A Tribute to Jandek
Various Artists – Golden Apples of the Sun
Various Artists – Confuse Yr Idols: A Tribute to Sonic Youth

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