Rare or Unreleased 29: Charles C. Leary

We can probably thank Devendra Banhart for the '00s resurgence in DIY home recordings, both in folk and indie rock. At one time the domain of eccentric artists, then the trendy, by now lo-fi home recordings have become an easy resort, with anyone not deemed good enough by serious record companies simply spewing out his or her mediocrity, in the belief that the intimacy associated with home recordings automatically translates into sincerity and talent. It doesn't.

There are advantages to unpretentious home recordings, though: Overlooked talent is less likely to be hampered by a lack of investors ready to provide studio time, and rawness often contains the energy lost in reconstructive studio recordings… Besides, hi-fi enthusiasts have it all wrong, much like perverts who rub their privates on glossy magazine paper, rather than at the sight of the mind-tickling, pornographic images on it. Home recordings full of warbling tape hiss and distortion aren't aural infidelity, just a different approach to sound (and a welcome break from the deceptively realistic philosophy of hi-fi-philes). Which is why Devendra Banhart sounded so fresh when he came out with rough debut album Oh Me Oh My… The Way the Day Goes By the Sun Is Setting Dogs Are Dreaming Lovesongs of the Christmas Spirit in 2002.

Well, one of the reasons. Not one to sit home alone and pine, forlorn and clueless, for some unreciprocated love—or harp on about childhood memories irrelevant to anyone but the songwriter, or childlike flights of fancy involving hobbits, animals with names and trees with souls—Banhart's spontaneous, silly and wholly unrestricted lyrics (by turns infantile, creepy and poignant, as if he saw no distinction between the three) and delivery free from self-consciousness and contrivance set him apart from all the other New-Weird-Americana-Freak-Folk-Family scenesters indulging in their moss-hugging whimsy. What makes Banhart so compelling isn't that he opposes yoga-animist crystal worship—he doesn't—but that he combines this with more unsettling, unrestrained elements that percolate there just at the surface of his awareness. Like the original hippies (forgotten by today's retro, unwashed ecologists clinging to identity packs limited to ideas of light, love and organic vegetarian food, and all but alien to occultism and orgies), an element of freewheeling black psychosis is involved in many of Banhart's original home recordings. Thankfully, our man was (by his own accounts) doing a lot of speed at the time, which would counter any insipidly pacifying effects of joint smoking…

When Young God Records released Oh Me Oh My…, the CD was a compilation out of a huge batch of songs recorded by Banhart onto four-track, answering machines, &c., chosen at random. An EP of more of these recordings—«The Black Babies»—soon appeared. Since then, every once in a while a previously unissued song from this period appears on some compilation or other (like The Fold Compilation, The Enlightened Family, and Yeti 3). The first single from Banhart's second studio album, «Little Yellow Spider», also contained old home recordings.

One forgotten album, however, is The Charles C. Leary, named after the songin turn named after Banhart's grandfather's ship (or so Banhart says). Whatever the etymology, the CD was released by French label Hinah in 2002, but quickly discontinued (due to licensing issues vis-à-vis Young God Records, I'd imagine). The Charles C. Leary contained many of the songs on Oh Me Oh My…, as well as songs that would later appear on The Fold Compilation and Yeti 3.

As Toilet Guppies isn't one of those blogs that pompously pretends to share files in a valiant battle against big corporations, when really the reason to use artists' product is to draw people to the self-indulgent blog (at the same time denying those very same artists their due income), I've included only those songs off The Charles C. Leary that aren't commercially available elsewhere. The other songs are readily for sale, and well worth the price.

1. Bish-bash Falls
2. Soothe My Soul, Mend My Mind
3. Ay Mama—Ay Mama
«Ay Mama» was later reworked—complete with the unbeatable combo of trombone and organ—and appears on Niño rojo.
4. The Fish Are Scratched Up Flies
5. Artsandcrafts (live at 40th Street West)
6. The Animal Map
7. Ride Away Like Roy Orbison
This song was re-recorded in the studio and released under the title «There's Always Something Happening» on the Natalie Portman-curated, iTunes-exclusive charity comp Big Change—Songs for FINCA, benefitting micro-financing schemes for women's businesses in the Third World.
8. Noah
Another song that later emerged in a studio-recorded band version, on Niño rojo.
9. Aperpareplane (early recording)
10. I Played Organ while Colter Played Guitar
11. Joe Cain
Unwind, unhinge and enjoy!

No comments:

Post a Comment