The media-saturated digital age has made niche markets like the reissuing (or oftentimes first-time issuing) of “lost classics” a stable venture; in recent years we’ve seen high-profile releases (such as Smile) and below-radar crate-digs (such as Gary Wilson’s So You Think You Know Me and the Toms’ self-titled debut), record labels that have popped up almost exclusively to reissue old material (Hip-O-Select, Soul Jazz) and magazines that function as an obscure index of neglected recordings (Wax Poetics).
The rediscovery of a lost recording often carries some revisionist speculation about how it or the artist involved was more important or influential than previously credited, but usually this is a case of assigning fetishistic value to the music simply because of its “lost” status. And although we can that admit it’s not entirely cynical or contrarian or un-American to insist that all cream does not rise to the top, at some point that unrisen mess just goes sour. The theory that a nation of kooks recorded rock’s great ouvre in their parents’ basements while the plebeian masses chomped down their Stones and Stooges is untenable simply because most of these lost classics were lost with good reason.
Exhibit X in bonkers basement cult artists is Michael Yonkers, whose abandoned 1968 psych-rock album, Microminiature Love (originally recorded for Sire Records before every piece of bad luck soured the deal), was recently unearthed by De Stijl Records and reissued on Sub Pop. Grimwood was recorded in 1969 and self-released in 1974 (to the knowledge of virtually no one), and its delicate, renaissance-fair tenor couldn’t sound less like its fuzzed-out predecessor.
Although Microminiature Love is a genuinely interesting document of the flowering of late-’60s experimental rock, Grimwood‘s only appeal is as a curiosity. Its dusty demo recording quality combined with the sparse (to say the least) acoustic guitar arrangements only highlight the lack of material Yonkers is working with. Cloying, romantic lyrics in songs like the title track, “Damsel Fair and Your Angel,” and “The Big Parade” make the already dull songs distasteful — although it’s possible Yonkers is making a joke of these ornate sentiments (popular at the time with more critically lauded singers like Tim Buckley), which would make the dude weirder than he already seems.
Between the (intentional?) layers of white noise and audible radio playing in the background of half of the tracks, it’s difficult to parse anything out of this strange recording; some might find Yonker’s dry voice similar to Calvin Johnson’s or Leonard Cohen’s or may be charmed by some of the album’s sweeter moments, like the lovely “And Give It to You.” But even fans of Microminiature Love likely won’t care much for the shaggy Grimwood. Yonkers’ chief appeal, outside of his debut, is his surrounding Syd Barret-esque myth, but lacking the buttress of a Piper at the Gates of Dawn or The Madcap Laughs, it’s just a good story.
Yonkers live: http://youtube.com/watch?v=5E7lcPeoqoM