Foreign Keys

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Jandek's 11th album, 1985's Foreign Keys, came out around the time that the enigmatic Texan's national profile was starting to rise from "completely unknown" to "virtually unknown," thanks to a growing number of articles that almost always spent more time talking about his stylistic quirks (the unceasingly monochromatic album covers, the near-total lack of personal information known about the guy) than his music. And that's a fair cop, seeing as how Jandek's albums are extremely hard to write about using conventional critical language. That said, Foreign Keys is typical of Jandek's albums of the period: the unconventionally tuned guitar parts are all electric and the unidentified drummer who often accompanied Jandek around this time appears on all 12 tracks, bashing away with a lack of technique that makes the Shaggs' Helen Wiggin sound like Billy Cobham. "Lost Cause" and "Caper" feature particularly chaotic performances, the former accompanied by some of Jandek's most frenzied chanting ever. The also-unidentified female vocalist from this era (some Jandek fans refer to her as Nancy, since her first vocal was on the song "Nancy Sings" from 1982's Chair Beside a Window) sings four songs in a row on side two, from "Needs No Sun" to "Put It Away," and her more controlled and musical voice is actually more pleasing to the ear than Jandek's untutored howl; an all-Nancy record would have been a treat. Her sighing, murmuring performance on the minimalist, almost-psychedelic "Oh No" recalls Opal's more experimental moments; it's actually almost pretty. The closing "River to Madrid" returns to the lyrics of the opening track, "Spanish in Me," set to a more violent-sounding guitar improvisation and sung as a duet, but the album's harrowing climax is "Ballad of Robert," an unhinged rant about a man who lives at a halfway house that's one of the most disturbing and genuinely unbalanced songs in Jandek's oeuvre.

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