There could hardly be a more surprising release than Linda Perhacs’ new album. If Elvis had put out a press release calmly announcing he would be returning to the recording studio, it would only be marginally more of a bombshell. It is her second album, and the first was released 44 years ago. During the intervening decades, Perhacs left the music scene completely and spent her working life as a Californian dentist. Now, in her late 60s at least, Perhacs has belatedly resumed a career that no-one, least of all her, imagined she had.
Album no.1, Parallelograms, was released in 1970 and, hampered by pressing issues and complete public indifference, vanished without trace. Perhacs wrote it off and moved from the hippy to the dentistry scene. However, while the years passed Parallelograms reputation as a lost classic grew. When the internet age arrived the brand of psych-folk to which Perhacs partly belonged became intensely fashionable, and past decades were trawled for lost artists. Devendra Banhart, also involved in the re-emergence of the similarly fragile, forgotten Vashti Bunyan, invited Perhacs to sing backing vocals on ‘Freely’, included on his 2007 album Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon.
Backing vocals are one thing but touring, as Linda Perhacs did last year leaving the US for the first time in her life, and recording new material is quite something else. Last year’s concerts were emotional, the audience astonished at the physical presence of someone they had never expected to see. She was backed by a group of younger LA musicians, with whom she seemed to have found both recognition and musical excitement. There was more than a touch of naivety about the way she not only failed to play most of the songs from her only album, after a 40-year wait, but also gave each of her band in turn a slot to sing their own material. However, Perhacs owes nobody anything, and her decision to record again is remarkable.
Parallelograms is a psychedelic masterpiece, full of West Coast visions crooned in a clear, low, extremely intimate voice. Perhaps due to decades of rest, Perhacs’ voice remains entirely distinctive- older and deeper, but unmistakeable. In many ways The Sound of All Natural Things picks up where she left off, as though she had always meant to sing these songs. The title alone makes it clear that little has changed, and that Perhacs is still as Californian in outlook as the meadow-strolling, cloud-staring hippy chick on the Parallelograms cover.
Remarkably Perhacs, perhaps experiencing a form of synaesthesia, sees her songs in the sky. She reads the patterns and they become music. This explains the eerie calm and the open-air feel of her songs, as well as the predominance of clouds, winds, trees and the laws of nature. The title track animates nature as an entity, announcing that “it breathes, it breathes within”. The wind speaks and “It’s as if all the thunder in all the universe heard his cry / Peace, be still.” It is hard to believe this song was recorded last year, or indeed this century.
The Sound of the Natural Universe is not perfect. In places it tips over into a fey preachiness that represents less tolerable aspects of the 1960s. ‘Children’ tells us “Children would say it’s the only way to be / It’s a wisdom they have and they’re here to show us the way.” ‘Immunity’ risk banality in its social analysis that “Every day we work a little harder, harder / Every day we work a little more.”
However, for the most part this album is the most unlikely masterpiece. Its songs are written with total confidence, ranging from the infectious, funky groove of ‘Intensity’ to the remarkable Joni Mitchell-esque vocals on ‘Daybreak’. ‘Prisms of Glass’ is a counterpoint to the prismatic title song on Parallelograms, inhabited by visions of geometry, spirals and circles and swirling maracas. The final track, ‘Song of the Planets’, is the kind of mystical extravaganza restricted these days to archive psychedelic compilations. The spheres sing, Perhacs floats calmly into space, and a stoned voiceover tells us the planets can bring us peace and demands “What will your answer be, men of earth?” At this point it becomes impossible to remember what we did during the 44 years we waited for Linda Perhacs to finish what she started.