(Young God Records)
A couple years ago, my wife bought me what has become my favorite book ever, Alchemy & Mysticism: The Hermetic Museum by Alexander Roob. It's a dazzling compendium of alchemy etchings and mystical illuminated scrolls from the 1400's and on, with equally incomprehensible explanatory text. Its like Finnegan's Wake, except with pictures, it makes my head spin every time I thumb through it. Around the time I got that, I also broke down and bought the much heralded Smithsonian Anthology of American Folk Music, the old record set that convinced everyone from Bob Dylan on up that thar's weirdness up in them thar hills. Its compiler, Harry Smith, was an ardent adherent to alchemy and particularly its hallucinatory imagery, and so the liner text and package is festooned to look like the magical document it is.
Fast forward 50 years or so, when it has once again influenced a new tide of folkies, not with just the idylls of Dock Boggs and the Charley Patton, but with it's symbols and talismans of which it is liberally festooned. Folk music has, in many circles become Magick Music, nomenclated by the Wire and a class at UCLA as "New Weird America." These New Weird Americans (unofficially led by Devendra Banhart, Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance and guitar savant Matt Valentine) mix the raga-rust of John Fahey's folk miasmas and a youth spent listening to New Order and/or Black Flag, resulting in some truly organic powerful music.
Akron/Family is the second great discovery by former Swans leader Michael Gira, since he was the Ed Sullivan to Devendra Banhart's Elvis but a couple years ago (except that he wisely did not tame Banhart's feral beauty.) A hirsute pack of visionaries that escaped from somewhere in the breadbasket to the crust of New York City, where they holed up in one of that labyrinths unexplored corners and started generating majestic, mystic, folkish vibrations from a parade of instruments, field hollers and handclaps. Their self-titled album fingerpicks its way in with a clockwork of acoustic guitar and humming, on "Before and After" and gets invaded by small hums and beeps until the whole thing fills up with water and you are surrender by a maze of ghost voices, collapsing once again into a tribal rumble of guitar, tambourine and racket. A delightfully odd beast to put at the front of one's megaerie, to be sure.
"Suchness" takes the form of a philosophy utterance on blues form, declaring "I wanna see a thing in itself, I don't want to think anymore" a number of times in that familiar rhythm that you expect them to next mention that They got a woman That done them wrong, but no, its becomes a cult chant about the Tao concept of the infinite. The copy that came with it mentions something about an "AK AK" philosophy they adhere to, but I don't get a feel for what that is on the musique concrete short "Interlude: Ak Ak is the Boat They sailed in On." "Sorrow Boy" puts them in more songish mode, resembling a much further out Flaming Lips of recent era. The pastoral splendor of "Shoes" with fingersnaps, banjo plucks and slide guitar is the high point for me as it sets its picnic blanket on my mind and feeds on my consciousness.
There is much to discover from this weedy beast, rooted now in Brooklyn and aiming at the cosmos. Tiny insects and crustaceans blow around with occasional sharp winds only to bake in the warm and giving sun. There is a lot of this kind of stuff floating out there now if you lift up the rocks, and the number of releases embraces the quantity of expression over the quality at times, but this is a winner soundtrack for your next personal ritual.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com