?I?m a long blank stare,? proclaims Jandek on the track ?Fragmentation,? in this, his forty-fourth release in nearly thirty years of output. He may just be on to something. Jandek?s ?Khartoum Variations? arrives at a time of serious creative upheaval in his long, prolific career. After decades of near anonymous silence, a ?representative from Corwood? has now performed several live shows in various permutations, with no sign of stopping, as well as ramped up his recording releases with new studio work, and live releases of some of his concerts. And despite it all, here this man stands as a near total enigma, a ghost in a world overwrought with exposure and information. Jandek sits in a chair before us, projecting a long blank stare into whatever it is we bring to bear on his legacy and his identity.
This deep into his catalogue, and we are no closer to being able to finally pin down the source of his inspiration. Considering all of the recurring qualities he has so effectively employed through these many years, he is still able to make each release sound as immediate as his first. Here in ?Khartoum Variations,? the way he uses his voice to stretch out words mid-syllable is dramatic to the point of being tortuous. His acoustic guitar playing, immediately recognizable, blasts right through any preconceived notions of what is to be expected from any genre. And yet despite the knee-jerk impression that he aggressively avoids songwriting convention, there is still a loose adherence to the verse and chorus structures of classic American folk and blues. Measuring the pain in his songs is an exercise in micromanagement; but having said that, he sounds even more hopeless and ravaged than usual.
Jandek also continues his use of referring to ?you? in his songs, which seems to imply, on the surface, that he is addressing someone in particular; but he could just as well be speaking figuratively about the idea of another person in a way that suits his need to address something outside of his present reality.
It?s hard to imagine how anyone could ever create anything this intense and direct for one album, much less nearly fifty,
and yet ?Khartoum Variations? is no less, and easily as devastating as anything he?s done previous.
It?s hard to say in what direction Jandek will head in the future, but I?m sure that regardless of what he chooses to do, his privacy will always be aggressively protected, and his influence will continue to grow.
He will always have his detractors, but no one can deny that he has remained steadfast in his creative direction. For every claim of Jandek being nothing but a big publicity stunt, there is another year of stark, idiosyncratic, intensely emotional material from which to draw, and from which to experience quite possibly the most harrowing American music to date. I highly recommend you take the time and effort to get into Jandek. It?s not an easy thing to do, but it?s definitely worth the work, and with ?Khartoum Variations,? the end works as well as the beginning. 8/10 -- John Cramer (29 June, 2006)