Last year, Devendra Banhart and a gaggle of bearded cohorts released Golden Apples of the Sun, a primer on this odd genre we call “freak folk.” It was Banhart’s own No New York, of sorts, he playing the hippie version of Eno, introducing the world to undiscovered acts, and unintentionally inventing a genre, much as Eno’s comp was the beginning of “no wave.” A second, similar compilation has sprouted up since that time, titled The Enlightened Family: A Collection of Lost Songs. Released by Voodoo Eros, a label started by CocoRosie’s Bianca Casady, the content on the collection isn’t all that different from that of Golden Apples, but the story behind it is a lot more interesting. Rather than merely collecting a beginner’s guide to freak-folk, which some of this isn’t, the compilation consists of rarities, live recordings, side projects and altogether unusual moments.
The Enlightened Family is far less accessible than Golden Apples, and certainly not for beginners. It sort of makes sense, considering how much more bizarre and hard to approach CocoRosie are than Banhart, even though he, himself, appears on this compilation twice. The Casadys are represented thrice on this album, though never simultaneously. Sierra’s side project Metallic Falcons, a strange instrumental psychedelic ambient band, opens the album with an intriguing number titled “Berry Metal.” Sierra also contributes a solo piano instrumental a few tracks later. And Island Folk Lore, yet another Casady project, offers a primal beats and chants track on “Sex With a Shark.”
Folkie Jana Hunter lends one of the most accessible tracks to the collection with her “Kissing Without Lips.” Her contribution is matched by the pair of songs by Diane Cluck, “Real Good Time” and “Nothing But God.” Newly re-discovered folk icon Vashti Bunyan is represented with a lost track titled “Song for a Wish Wanderer,” which is hauntingly beautiful, but pretty damned lo-fi. And then, of course, there’s Banhart, playing a pair of home-recorded songs for a friend’s birthday. Though they’re a bit more raw than what we’re used to, they’re still pretty enjoyable.
There are some songs that are just plain baffling, however, as in the case of oddball R&B group Nomi, the freak-hop of Spleen and Zen, and a live recording of a song called “Why Am I Still Sucking Your Dick?” credited to J.H.T. Curiously, the singer has a hint of Antony in his voice, and rumor has it that it really is him.
Reader, take note: The Enlightened Family is not for beginners. For those just discovering Banhart or CocoRosie, this may still come off as bizarre and off-putting. But repeated listens do reveal lasting rewards. This may not spawn any new genres, but it certainly shows more depth and even more weirdness to a genre currently garnering lots of critical attention.
Various Artists – Golden Apples of the Sun
Devendra Banhart – The Black Babies
Alan Lomax – World Library of Folk and Primitive Music, Vol. 1
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.