It takes a special breed to enjoy the work of Jandek. If you can make it through an entire record by the elusive loner, you’re a better man than me. But I suppose difficult music puts hair on your chest and makes the skin thicker—just don’t play it in polite company unless you trying to scatter the dinner party hanger-ons. That challenging barrier between artist and audience seems to pervade the first full-length from Victoria, Australia’s Mad Nanna, I Make Blood Better. In reviewing their debut single, I claimed that the quartet’s “lazy, haze-induced drawl” could only evolve. That’s not quite the case here, as with this record they increase the difficulty of catching hold of how, what and why they make music this anemic, this profoundly untrained. I Make Blood Better first appeared as a tape, but here has been re-recorded, still retaining the lower-than-lo-fi approach of that cassette. As with Jandek and other denizens who sit at farthest end of the abstraction spectrum (think Shaggs or Shadow Ring), you have to blindly dive into their work. These “songs” are brutally personal or part of some clandestine cult of basement dwellers, smoking deep into the night, never paying much attention to the stop and start buttons on the four-track. I would hate to say that it’s all that spiritual, though in their meddling they appear guided by an ethereal force, albeit one half-asleep and half-awake. At times, feedback and distortion float in like a celestial voice. It’s also not the result of accident or idiot glee, though vaporous melodies do form in the rusted, duct-taped swing of “You Can’t Expect It.” Still, you can sense those moments weren’t rehearsed or planned. “My Two Kids” is shambolic Kiwi-pop, only broadcast through headphones in shag carpeting. Why a tune this immediate is sullied by production and an audible lack of enthusiasm again questions the intent of those who dabble in such impenetrable music.
I suppose there’s a method, or a general disregard to methods, that employs this madness. Did these guys intend for us to hear the unabridged, one-note, detuned marathon that is “Deck Song” or the indecipherable, and as a result infinitely creepy, conversation cut directly into the second side? Are we to believe, from the jamboree finale of “Just Before the Sun Hits Down,” that they’d much prefer to give us an album of banjo mutilation and hemisphere blues? Somehow, despite these questions, this alchemy works and works effectively enough to want more, to flip sides, to soak into their ether. The addition of some live recordings, especially the unexpected crowd noise that surfaces in “I Hit A Wall,” erases any loneliness you might afford to a record this intangibly warped. Then again, there’s nothing off-putting or caustic in the sonics that could scare one away. I Make Blood Better is terrestrial in its creature comforts, alien in its composition and somnambulistic in its execution. It’s also entirely a record that depends firmly on the eye of its beholder. To some Mad Nanna’s clumsy psych can morph into dustbin raga, primitive jangle, and even a Pavement song or two (were Pavement really the Sun City Girls). To most, it’s going to sound like a mess, a confused band fumbling in the dark. Mad Nanna speak in tongues, just take the time to learn the language and you will be rewarded.
Kevin J. Elliott