Sometimes it seems as if the world is full of Great Lost Records. Every few weeks, a diligent and adventurous label will uncover some neglected album from the cusp of the ‘60s and ‘70s and present it as a true classic. Many of these records are pretty good, and act as testament to the creativity and fecundity of the music scene in America back then. Few of them, however, have a really enduring afterlife: following the miracle of rediscovery, most recede into a new kind of limbo, in the shape of a lavishly annotated CD package rather than as dusty, overpriced vinyl.
Linda Perhacs’ Parallelograms is one of those exceptions that proves the rule; the American equivalent to Vashti Bunyan’s Just Another Diamond Day. An uncanny mix of Aquarian folk and ethereal, avant-garde treatments, Parallelograms was created in the heart of hippy country, LA’s Topanga Canyon, by a dental hygienist who was inspired by nature and by the cultural revolution going on around her. “I’m not a drug user,” she says now, still living on Topanga Canyon Boulevard. “I never was in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but I loved those people because they were dealing with energies, and our conversation level would be very deep. I’m deeply intuitive, I see and hear things the average person might not experience.”
Parallelograms was produced by one of Perhacs’ dental clients, Leonard Rosenmann, a film composer who had written the scores for Rebel Without A Cause and Barry Lyndon. Over nine months, with a host of experienced players on call – “I felt like a street urchin being schooled by Picasso,” she says – Rosenmann fleshed out Perhacs’ astonishing and intuitive musical vision. When Parallelograms was finished, it sounded like a masterpiece, but the Kapp label pressed it so badly that, Perhacs says, “I could only bear to listen to it once. I then threw my copy of my own record away.” Promotion was negligible, sales non-existent. Obscurity beckoned.
In the internet age, though, obscurity can be discreetly transformed into a kind of niche immortality. As the 21st Century began, and Perhacs recovered from a grim bout of pneumonia, she learned that Parallelograms had become a cult album. A CD reissue on The Wild Places imprint followed in 2003, but Perhacs’ reputation only continued to grow. Devendra Banhart was particularly evangelical, and tempted Perhacs back into a studio in 2007 to provide backing vocals on his reconstruction of the vintage Topanga vibe, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon.
Disparate and unlikely fans revealed themselves: Swedish death metal group Opeth covered “Parallelograms”; Daft Punk placed “If You Were My Man” in their Electroma movie. “I first bought Parallelograms on vinyl when I was in New York on tour,” remembers Ramona Gonzalez of the LA group Nite Jewel. “I carried it under my arm to a crowded party, shut the door to the room that had a turntable, turned it on, and laid on the ground. I probably listened to it a dozen times while tears filled my eyes.”
And slowly, Perhacs began making music again. In 2010, she performed live for the very first time, at a tribute show (organised by the internet radio station, Dublab) that connected her to a new generation of LA musicians supernaturally attuned to her vision. “I never personally wanted to be the centre of attention, with all that pressure on you,” she says. “I didn’t need it for any personal reason. But I got hooked when I did the show for Dublab. On the Food Channel nowadays, they mix spices from all parts of the world. There are no limits, and that’s how I felt when I met all these young artists. I wanted more.”
Perhacs fell into auspicious and hip young company, tentatively negotiating a return to musical activity with the help of Gonzalez and Julia Holter. Inspiration came, too, from listening to “Francisco”, a Milton Nascimento song that Devendra Banhart had passed on to her, and from watching Inside Björk, a documentary which showed the Icelandic singer escaping from the pressures of performance by sailing up close to a majestic iceberg.
Fittingly, though, it was one of Perhacs’ own spiritual experiences in nature that proved the catalyst for resolving all her ideas into a new album. On May 20, 2012, she watched a solar eclipse from her bedroom window. “I was just overwhelmed by the beauty,” she recalls. “A whole new song concept poured into me, faster than I could write it down. I settled down afterwards, and I had all these scattered pages in front of me. For weeks afterwards I kept trying to find an hour in my busy schedule to put the pieces together, but nothing felt right. One day I was frustrated, because I had to get back to responsibilities and the workaday world, and I went to that same window and I said, ‘God, this is never going to happen unless I find someone to help me. I need a full arranger, I need good recording capability close to home, these concepts come into my head faster than I can catch them and arrange them.’
“Two days later this email came through from Fernando Perdomo. I get a lot of messages but something said, ‘Answer that email right away.’”
Perdomo, it transpired, was a skilled musician and producer who’d just moved from Florida into Perhacs’ LA neighbourhood. Along with another dedicated and gifted Perhacs fan, Chris Price, the trio began recording the eclipse song, “River Of God”, and what became the new album’s title track, The Soul Of All Natural Things. It’s a remarkable follow-up album, one that sustains and extends the aesthetic mission of its 43-year-old predecessor. Julia Holter and Ramona Gonzalez contribute, too, on a set of 12 new songs which Mojo has already called “a spectrally hypnotic work of prismatic beauty.”
“Linda is a fierce and disciplined, yet open-minded, visionary,” says Holter. “She’s probably a musical virtuoso, with an incredible vocal range and a discerning ear, and she likes to try out different sets of harmonies and wild timbres. But she always has a story to tell and takes the message as seriously as the music.”
As a consequence The Soul Of All Natural Things, for all its apparent serenity, is also a subtly polemical album, full of exhortations to take a step out of our frantic everyday lives. “We get too far out of balance and we must find a way to get back to our polestar,” Perhacs says. “I felt that people needed to be reminded of that. My music isn’t just recreational, it’s not just entertainment. I have a deeper purpose. My soul is giving itself to the people; I want them to be helped, I want them to be lifted.
“If you follow a fad, it’s very temporary. If you centre yourself in something that is eons old, you line yourself up with the highest vibrations in the universe: more light within, more inspiration within, more love within.”
Lofty aspirations, perhaps, but they typify this new age of Linda Perhacs’ music. “Linda,” says Sufjan Stevens, who is releasing The Soul Of All Natural Things on his Asthmatic Kitty label, “has a prophetic voice that speaks beauty and truth with the kind of confidence and hope that has been lost for decades.
“There is nothing more real in music today.”