I’m a Harmony is a stunning progression for Perhacs.
One of the great joys of the internet is not only the finding of the new, but the unearthing of the old. Discovered as a young dental hygienist, Linda Perhacs released her debut album, the hypnagogic freak folk of Parallelograms, 47 years ago. Despite its mysterious and alluring qualities, the album flopped, and she quietly returned to her old life. Perhacs was able to create her own world out of hazy soundscapes and melodically strong songwriting, but the real world wasn’t quite ready for her.
Before the turn of the century, Perhacs’s career would have barely warranted a Wikipedia entry.
However, with a huge amount of help from both obsessive record collectors and musicians alike, she has reemerged as a cult figure. Parallelograms, an album so worthy of praise, has finally found its audience thanks to a handful of key reissues and widespread availability through the internet. But what makes Perhacs such a special case is not only her beautiful debut, but the free-wheeling lust for life that she has found since. The Soul of All Natural Things, her forty-four years in the making follow up, presented an older and wiser Perhacs. This year’s I’m a Harmony finds her embracing the new, while carving out her own place in modern psychedelia.
I’m a Harmony is defined by Perhacs’s collaborations with a number of younger musicians, most of which are undoubtedly influenced by her own music: Julia Holter, Fernando Perdomo and Wilco’s Pat Sansone feature prominently. Billed as “The Voice and Vision of Linda Perhacs in collaboration with…”, all but two of the songs on I’m A Harmony feature these friends and admirers. Sporting an open and relaxed approach, Perhacs was sent a variety of rough instrumental pieces, mostly from Holter and Perdomo, that she would then write melodies and harmonies around. Her guiding principle? “Just cut loose, don’t worry about anyone else’s opinion, just aim for the highest level of creativity that you can.”
As a result, Perhacs has expanded her sound with a vast array of psychedelic accoutrements, while still pinning everything down with her dazzling voice and penchant for soaring melodies. The aforementioned Holter, best known for her forward-thinking chamber pop, provides some of I’m a Harmony’s most thrilling moments. “I’m a harmony / And I am singing through your laptop,” repeat Holter and Perhacs on the album’s title track over ethereal electronics and a picked acoustic drone. A steady kick drum soon takes hold over a mess of saxophones, upright bass and drum rolls before everything drops into a wash of echoing vocals.
Devendra Banhart pops up with a delightfully unexpected monologue in “We Will Live,” as an arpeggiated guitar cascades down ripples of vocals from both Perhacs and Holter, the song submerged under a healthy dose of reverb and delay. You can practically hear the wind rushing through Laurel Canyon. “Crazy Love,” similarly, alludes to that fabled region, with jazzy acoustics gently casting themselves against subtle slide guitars. Perhacs’s endearing proclamation that “You know I love your kind of crazy / How can it get any better than this? Yeah!” is, perhaps, the album’s most joyous moment.
While these collaborations can sometimes feel too one-sided (“Beautiful Play,” in particular, sounds more like a Holter original), Perhacs is always the star, and while her guests may sometimes dictate direction, she’s always in the driver’s seat. The two songs to be listed without collaborators — the groovy “The Dancer” and the gentle sway of “One Full Circle Around the Sun” — are two of the strongest on the album. Unencumbered by I’m a Harmony’s sometimes busy arrangements, Perhacs is free to quickly dip into her past, her haunting vocals and softly picked guitar prove to be even more appealing on their own.
I’m a Harmony is a stunning progression for Perhacs. Her varied collaborations are both thoughtfully curated and expertly executed, acting as a natural and surprising evolution for her sound. For the 75-year-old Perhacs, life is just beginning.