Lost Cause

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There is little known about this obscure American cult artist whose 30-plus albums are shrouded in mystery. Challenged by the Residents and Thomas Pynchon alike for schemed anonymity, his albums contain some of the most distinctive and warped music produced in the '80s and '90s. His dedicated fan base adores him in a way that Syd Barrett is so greatly admired. An icon of outsider art, the image of a mad genius is only increased by his excellent uniform sleeve design, which occasionally depicts the artist in oblique family snapshots, or place seemingly random out-of-focus images of suburban architecture with no text or information to speak of. To consider this blues or folk music in a traditional sense is a long shot, although his avant-garde approach to such idioms is apparent on all of his recordings, which have the intimacy of authentic American folk music and the anguish and candidness of Delta blues. Candid is an understatement in describing the privacy of these records; recorded seemingly in stream-of-consciousness fashion, the turn of phrase is matched only by Syd Barrett and Daniel Johnson at their most brilliant and Freudian. With Lost Cause, even the most open-minded will be polarized by either loving it or being driven crazy (either way it may make you cry) -- suffice to say there are few recordings that can do that. The atonal strum and disquieting verbal rambling would make outsiders such as Kevin Coyne sound positively commercial. Lost Cause, however, is one of the more cohesive of his outings and, while his ample discography covers many diversions to and from the blues formula, there is something that distinguishes the chronology of his recordings: They seem to become increasingly abstract with each consecutive outing.

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