Jad Fair is America's anti-music poster child, the personification of DIY. Both as a member of Half Japanese
and with his countless solo albums, he continues to baffle listeners
with his unwillingness to conform to any conventions, be they as
universal as being able to play an instrument or sing in tune. If you
do this once or twice you are simply being ignored, but Fair's tenacity
made it impossible to overlook him. Similar to his friend Daniel Johnston, with whom he collaborated on two albums, he's achieved a cult status because his passion for music is simply inspiring.
That is not to say he hasn't progressed - his later albums are far more
accessible than his early releases - but that's often due to the fact
that he's been collaborating more and more with serious musicians.
These collaborations often lack the immediacy of Jad's strictly solo
work, and sometimes end up being distinctively average or uninspired,
such as the concept album he released with Yo La Tengo where he babbles strange newspaper headlines over canned sound collages sent to him by YLT.
I'm posting 8 of his albums here in one post, because chances are if
you're not already a fan you probably find this all very annoying.
Instead of chronologically, I'll present them to you in order of
accessibility: from the barely listenable to the almost slick:
Jad Fair - The Zombies of Mora-Tau (1980)
Jad's solo debut, the 7-track, 11-minute EP continues in the tradition of very early Half Japanese albums like Half Gentleman/Not Beast, but it's even more noisy and a lot more in-your-face. If it were a bit more structured I'd call this industrial.
Play this record the next time your grandmother visits or to annoy your
neighbours. It has some great moments on it, and all the songs are
short enough to use them as fillers in your next mix-tape.
Jad & David Fair - 26 Monster Songs for Children (1998)
This collaboration with brother David is a concept album featuring
pretty much what the title says. There is a monster song for every
letter in the alphabet and each song is preceded by a short
introduction from a little kid explaining in his own words what the
particular monster is about. The songs are rather tedious at times and
about as mature as the target audience, but it has its charming
moments, especially for people who like monsters (and who doesn't?).
Jad Fair & Daniel Johnston - It's Spooky (1989) Maybe his most popular album, and it's a cute one. Beautiful songs
and stories, delivered in a charmingly inept manner. The rhythms are
all over the place, the guitars out of tune, and the vocal duets grate,
but in typical Fair and Johnston fashion, this doesn't matter much and
instead forces you to pay more attention to the stories and harmonies
than the presentation.
Jad Fair & Kramer - Roll Out The Barrel (1988)
A collaboration with Shimmy Disc's Kramer that I have mixed feelings
about. It's one of those records that is jam-packed with great ideas,
but it somehow doesn't fit all that well together. Kramer is sometimes
getting carried away and Jad babbles more than he's singing. There are
a bunch of tracks that make up for this because they are downright
psychedelic and eerily beautiful.
Jad Fair & R. Stevie Moore - FairMoore (2002)
This collaboration works better than some of the others, probably
because both R. Stevie Moore and Jad Fair are so much more similar in
their approaches. There's a lot of variety here, samples from all over
the place, and no lack of creativity. Musically, this is all over the
place, which makes it all the more interesting, but it can be difficult
to digest in a single setting.
Jad Fair & Yo La Tengo - Strange But True (1998)
The aforementioned album, that left me as both a Jad Fair and Yo La
Tengo fan wondering what could have been. It sounds like a YLT jam
session in 22 parts and Jad Fair tells us the stories he thinks should
go along with the actual newspaper headlines used in the title. Very
Jad Fair - I Like It When You Smile (1992)
So this is what Jad Fair sounds like when too many serious musicians
are involved. Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis, Shimmy alumni and member of the
Velvet MonkeysDon Fleming, and NRBQ's Terry Adams all lend more than
one helping hand, and the result is borderlining radio-friendliness. Of
course, it wouldn't be a Jad Fair album if he wouldn't throw in some
really messy songs, and he doesn't disappoint with the very weird cover
of "Sunny Side of the Street" and the avant-gardish "Roadrunner".
Jad Fair & Teenage Fanclub - Words of Wisdom and Hope (2002)
The album that's musically the furthest detached from his early
records, this collaboration with Teenage Fanclub is downright smooth.
It's basically a Teenage Fanclub album with Jad singing, and even that
he does unusually melodic. That being said, it's a nice album with the
added bonus effect that you can play this to your indierock friends
without them freaking out.