A sepia-tinted kaleidoscope of garage rock, surf guitar, psilocybin’d folk and one of the oddest pop sensibilities this side of Beefheart and his Magic Band, cult artist and obscurantist favorite Michael Yonkers’ unreleased 1977 solo gem, Lovely Gold, shines with a 2010 dust-off and release from indie label Drag City. During the social tumult of the late 1960s, Yonkers had retreated, sequestering himself in his parents’ basement to experiment with tape loops and homemade synthesizers. A broken back, suffered in an industrial accident, would cause him to retreat once again. Recorded six years after that incident, Lovely Gold is the sound of an artist moving inward, into his own fractured and fascinating inner landscapes.
Indeed, this is freak folk before there was a name for such a thing. Rumbling percussion, effects-warped guitars and Yonkers’ warbly voice all intertwine and dovetail into an avant-everything wonderland of psychedelic minimalism. Songs like the rumbled croons and strums of “I Knew You’d Remember” give the first side of Trout Mask Replica a run for its money; “Drifting Off” forms a mid-album vortex of burbling noise effects beneath a slinky chorus melody; and “Will It Be” predates — and outweirds — the best of the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s moody down-tempo material with a wash of haunting wails and shadowy sonics.
Yet however strong the Lovely Gold’s remainder is (and it is), the album would be crippled without its blistering title track. A four-minute paean to adrenalized freak-rock, “Lovely Gold” starts off as an ominous and nervy sway of circular surf-pop before steadily building, building, building into a guitar implosion gone nova as Yonkers pushes his instrument — and himself, by the sound — to its outer limits. Drag City was kind enough to pack in a bonus track (the unsettling moans of “Nevermore”) with this long-overdue release, but the sound of Lovely Gold meeting the light of day is bonus enough.