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.
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.
Photo by Jason Wolter Jandek at Big Star Bar in April
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