Call IT an act of willful befuddlement or a fundamental Irish urge for self-annihilation, but I have a love for the branch of “freak folk” music that incompetently stumbles in one-chord, feedback-driven, stoned evocations of the pastoral. The more narcoleptic, the better. Out of tune? But of course.
Is it post-hippie? Neo-hippie? Maybe it’s avant-hippie!
This is not the freak folk of Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom or Animal Collective. No, indeed. They play too well and tend to reside in the acoustic realm. There’s much more freak than folk in the acts I enjoy. This is the true “New Weird America,” a phrase coined by the Wire’s David Keenan riffing on Greil Marcus’ celebrated “Old Weird America.” Imagine your eyes rolling back in your head as you listen to MV & EE With the Golden Road or nearly any of the acts on Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace record label. Try the Sunburned Hand of the Man, a band to give one seizures.
Maybe it’s UC Santa Cruz that did it to me -- early and mid-'70s Santa Cruz with its wafting clouds of cannabis and patchouli floating above earnest discussions of Hegel and Marx. There were certainly many willing passengers on the oblivion express in those days, nodding out to the Dead or catching Neil Young and the Ducks at an unannounced gig at the Catalyst.
Maybe it’s a rebellion against the trained musician in me, the son of a composer. By rights, I should think this music is hopelessly unimaginative, badly played, badly recorded. Most musician pals of mine do. Most music critics discreetly ignore this stuff, despite Moore’s imprimatur, or segregate it into a box for “outsider” art.
The truth is that there is a naive nihilism at play here and you either joyfully embrace it, putting aside your critical paradigms and logarithms, or you leave it alone, content to scratch your head over more complex and demanding fare.
-- Casey Dolan