Landing a copy of Digitalis’ fascinating 3 cd 2005 compilation Gold Leaf Branches is a great entry point to the often bewildering range of names active on this Underground music scene.
It got me thinking of other collections that help define the sound of the so called Weird America , both old and new.
The obvious starting pont is Harry Smith’s inspirational Anthology of American Folk Music which was originally released on vinyl in 1952 but which gained a whole new audience through the 6 cd box put out by Smithsonian Recordings in 1997.
In a similar vein , John Fahey curated two fascinating volumes of American Primitive Guitar (Revenant Records) bringing to light more haunting voices from the past which resolutely refuse to stay dead and buried.
More recently, Arthur Magazine gave Devendra Banhart the chance to curate the sound of the New Weird America by commissioning ‘The Golden Apples of the Sun’ (Bastet) in 2004. This features 20 tracks by the acts like Vetiver, Antony & the Johnsons, Joanna Newsom, Jack Rose and CocoRosie who have gone on to achieve wider recognition.
Meanwhile there are many lesser known artists like those linked to The Jewelled Antler Collective label based in the San Francisco Bay Area. They began producing numerous small scale releases in 1999. With names that often only exist for one single recording, the compilations ‘Windswept Trees & Houses’ and ‘Heat & Birds’ are invaluable documents for getting a handle on the music they are making.
My final three choices begin with ‘The Harmony of the Spheres’ (Drunken Fish Records – see E-Music) in 1996. This was originally a triple vinyl box set with lavish packaging and sleeve notes, now re-released as a double cd . It features six artists : Bardo Pond, Flying Saucer Attack, Jessamine, Roy Montgomery, Loren Mazzacane Connors and Charalambides who were each called upon to fill one side of a disc. This proved to be an inspiration to two other major compilations : ‘By The Fruits You Shall Know The Roots’ (a collaboration between Time-Lag & Eclipse) in 2005 and the mammoth ‘Invisible Pyramid– 6 cd Elegy Box‘. The first of these was the brainchild of Ben Chasny (aka Six Organs of Admittance). It too is a triple album with a full LP side each given over to : Six Organs of Admittanace, Jack Rose, Matt Valentine & Erika Elder (MV/EE) with Chris Corsano, Dredd Foole, Fursaxa and Joshua with Kemiallset Ystavat. Foxy Digitalis gave this a glowing review but you’ll find both this and the Invisible Pyramid set long out of print.
As with all of these limited edition releases you have to be in the right place at the right time to grab them – failing that your only recourse lies in your friendly neighbourhood P2P store! Worth the time and effort though!
I’d be interested to know if any souls reading this have other favourite collections of old or new weird sounds.