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Jad Fair and Daniel Johnston



The pairing of Jad Fair and Daniel Johnston brings to mind the worn-out saying "birds of a feather..." Anyone familiar with the past work of these two reigning savants of American musical primitivism should know what to expect: a high-pitched, wavery tenor offering stream-of-consciousness odes to friends, love, the salvation offered by rock music, and mental defectiveness brought on by the steady mediocrity of modern life, accompanied by artless, ramshackle, deliberately unpolished instrumentation. Fair has since the late '70s been the guiding member of the seminal experimental noise group Half Japanese, the band which turned free association into punk rock. Johnston, who's been around nearly as long, could easily be Half Japanese's other half; since his first crude boombox-recorded cassettes, Johnston has managed to make dozens of recordings despite (or perhaps because of) serious mental illness which has caused him to be institutionalized on several occasions.

So in 1989, these two rather mental singer-songwriters got together for a week at Jad's house and churned out the interminable It's Spooky, which consists of 25 noisily minimalist rants on such esoteric subjects as fast-food employment and meeting Roky Erickson (the similarly minded musical madman who once upon a time fronted 13th Floor Elevators). Fair released the album on his own 50 Skidillion Watts label, after which the album languished in obscurity for more than a decade until Jagjaguwar Records resurrected it in 2001 with a half-dozen additional tracks and a home video performance of Johnston performing the song "Don't Play Cards with Satan." Around the time of this reissue, the lunatic duo got together a second time, this time with wild card multi-instrumentalist Chris Bultman under the name Lucky Sperms, to record another 20 pieces of free-associative lo-fi rock under the title Somewhat Humorous. Both discs are dominated by Johnston-penned tunes (Johnston does most of the singing too), alongside a handful of damaged covers. The remarkable thing about this material is that despite all the delusional paranoia and intentional amateurishness, most of the songs are actually fairly catchy, which makes you, the listener, feel that there must be some sort of method to the madness -- or that the duo's craziness is contagious.

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