Defying Ambiguity: Jandek & 5 Other Curious Cult Musicians (UPDATED)
UPDATE (July 19, 8:20 a.m.): Some inaccuracies in the Charalambides item have been corrected.
Jandek at Big Star Bar in April
Photo by Jason Wolter
As a musician, there are many reasons behind choosing to remain an ambiguous character in the public eye as opposed to taking in all of the public attention one can. Choosing to remain ambiguous or elusive is sometimes a decidedly defiant statement, sometimes even a backwards-marketing tool, or is simply a pure reflection of one's personality.
Whatever the reason may be, musicians who have taken such a path, and have found success regardless, all share a common mystique. With a lack of a cohesive image of a musician, listeners have nothing to go on but bare-bones music.
It's the curious listeners who seek to attribute meaning to the music they're listening to, and then those who simply get lost in appreciating music for what it is, that keep fueling many of these musicians' cult status.
Houston's own Jandek (performing tonight at Mango's) is a great example of an all-elusive musician. For many years, his music could only be accessed via a P.O. box address.
His anti-pop sound managed to garner him a few significant fans, including Sonic Youth, Bill Callahan, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, and John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats, although Jandek's sound is a bit far from the stark sweetness that is Death Cab for Cutie.
Point is, only about two and a half decades from his start did he finally start performing more regularly. His enigmatic tunes, while appropriately branded as outsider music, encompass a wide range of sounds, especially live. When Jandek does a show, no one knows what to expect.
While no one really compares to Jandek's extremely unique sound, there are quite a few more notably elusive musicians out there that, through their lack of... presence, are immensely inspiring and capturing to many. These artists also happen to be quite fitting to listen to on a rainy day like this.
This former husband-and-wife duo, also Houston natives, have released a steady stream of brooding psychedelic folk recordings that flew under the radar of most people outside the underground/experimental music community. That includes fans like Thurston Moore, who invited the two to play the 2006 "Nightmare Before Christmas" edition of the All Tomorrow's Parties festival. Until guitarist Tom Carter was hospitalized in Germany in May, Charalambides had been touring regularly since that year.
4. Jeff Mangum
Thirteen years since the release of landmark album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, when Jeff Mangum modestly toured as the head of Neutral Milk Hotel, Mangum has contributed to an odd album of sound collages with some old members of Elephant 6 and compiled a collection of live field recordings from a remote folk festival in Bulgaria. Also, if you try Googling Jeff Mangum, "crazy" and "dead" are in the top query suggestions.
In between those 13 years, too, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea went from being known only within a tight-knit circle of fans to being canonized as one of the top albums of the '90s by various music critics.
Since Neutral Milk Hotel disbanded in the '90s, Mangum now performs as a rarefied act. As photography is prohibited at his shows, it has been claimed that he manages to enrapture his audience into a rare void of any smartphone activity. When Jeff Mangum and his band made a rare performance of his in Chicago this year, an illustrator for the Chicago Reader made some sketches of the show
A personal favorite, Nick Drake's peaceful tunes finely mesh with his somehow equally romantic and hauntingly realist lyrics. Above is a fan-made video to go with his song "A Place to Be." His reluctance to perform live or be interviewed is said to have impeded his personal fame during his lifetime. His brush with crippling psychosis right before his death at the age of 26 didn't help either.
However, once Drake's musical catalog was reassessed via the 1979 release of Fruit Tree, about five years after his death, his music was rediscovered and went through a newfound popularity. Artists such as Robert Smith then emerged with new music, claiming him as an inspiration.
2. Leonard Cohen
Musician and author Leonard Cohen, known for his poetically rich and gravelly ballads, has been producing works of music for decades now. He rarely tours, though he was recently coerced back into performing after his management stole a large chunk of his savings while he was on a five-year Buddhist retreat. This tour, which stops at Austin's Bass Concert Hall on Halloween Night, is the first one Cohen had done in about 15 years.
1. Karin Dreijer Andersson
Perhaps best known in the U.S. as half of electro act The Knife, Karin Dreijer Andersson keeps a high level of mystery in her performances. Though, she is maybe less reclusive than the others listed here (and on a whole other spectrum of artistry, for that matter). With The Knife, she was rarely caught without face paint or a dark Venetian mask and hardly ever granted interviews.
Now under the solo name Fever Ray, a little face-melting incident became a buzz a couple of years ago. In the video above, Andersson appeared as such at a Swedish award ceremony to accept that country's equivalent of a Grammy for her music. Many online sources debated if she "out-weirded" Lady Gaga.
Jandek performs tonight at Mango's, 403 Westheimer. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.
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