Linda Perhacs: Parallelograms

Linda Perhacs

Like him or not, Devendra Banhart’s played a considerable role in championing a host of cult-favorite folk artists from the late ‘60s and ‘70s, including Vashti Bunyan and Karen Dalton. In the process (and in concert with the efforts of his contemporaries), he’s drawn both renewed attention to worthy and forgotten albums, as well as their connections to today’s psych-folk explorers. The latest artist to benefit from Banhart’s support is Linda Perhacs, whose only album, 1970’s Parallelograms, despite its initial reissued in 1998, languished in obscurity. After contributing vocals to a version Banhart’s “Freely”, rumor has it the two are collaborating on songs from what would be Perhacs’s first record in nearly 40 years. In the meantime, Parallelograms sees reissue again; this time with extensive liner notes, bonus tracks and the full support and cooperation of Perhacs herself.

According to Perhacs’s own detailed notes, she credits its release to a chance encounter with a movie composer at the Beverly Hills periodontal office where she worked. Though passionate, knowledgeable and talented, Perhac set modest goals outside of music. Her priority has always what she deems a “very ‘straight’ job in the world of the healing sciences.” That the original label did next to nothing to promote the record at the time and completely botched the vinyl pressing, also contributed to Perhacs’s estrangement from the commercial music world. Listening to a newly re-mastered Parallelograms with all of this in mind, it’s difficult not to feel a twinge of regret for what might have been, though nowhere in Perhacs’s own account is there any sense of misgiving, only sincere gratitude and even a bit of surprise that the songs have endured so long despite commercial indifference.

On one hand, as an album alone with no follow-ups to compare to, Parallelograms sounds completely of its time: deeply earnest and gently melodic songs full of prayerful images of nature (“Dolphin”, “Moons and Cattails”) and denunciations of material culture (“Porcelain Baked-Over Cast-Iron Wedding”). Overall, it doesn’t sound particularly dated or nostalgic possibly because so many young ‘uns have been influenced by its era’s better efforts that it sounds in context with Banhart, Meg Baird and Espers, Vetiver, etc. But the production is also succinct. Though both compared to Joni Mitchell’s early oeuvre and described as “acid-folk”, Perhacs’s songs rarely approach Mitchell’s iconoclasm or delve too deeply into psychedelic excess. “Dolphin”, written in 1967, shines as a cleanly performed ballad with only a touch of reverb dressing its guitar/vocal arrangement. “Paper Mountain Man” playfully jabs at a self-styled hippie player using drum-circle percussion and competing lines of harmonica and guitar. More often than not, the most unusual adornments to the songs are no more or less than gorgeous, swirling harmonies.

However, the big, glaring exception to all of this, the title track, best exemplifies Perhacs’s idea of what she terms “visual music”, the culmination of a life of synesthetic experiences. “Parallelograms”, a hypnotic sound sculpture and appropriately the album’s centerpiece, begins with overlapping guitar and vocal parts before abruptly entering a moody, trippy middle passage of distorted sounds and then ultimately returning to its main theme. It sounds more the result of a curious mind experimenting with the nature of sound than a mind befuddled by hallucinogens. For her part, Perhacs writes, “Drugs played no role in my creativity,” and her album attests to this. Perhacs followed her own rules and muse as purely as she could.

The bonus material accompanying this reissue offers a few unvarnished demos (two of “Chimacum Rain”, as well as demo and alternate takes of “If You Were My Man”) that are a nice addition for those who have longed for years to hear more from Perhacs. The sole new composition, 1978’s “I Would Rather Love”, which unfortunately suffers from dated and inappropriate production, awkwardly shoehorning Perhacs’s voice and melodies into chipper, radio-friendly pop rock. Nevertheless, it serves as a curious treat, with a snippet of Perhacs describing and playing different instruments at various speeds for producer Leonard Rosenman and a 2005 interview with the BBC. Even if it fails to bring about a long-awaited album of new Perhacs material, Parallelograms classifies as a solid and worthy reissue, but we should keep our fingers crossed all the same.

RATING 7 / 10