Gary Wilson's self-released 1977 curio You Think You Really Know Me was reissued in 2002, and sounded so distinctively postmodern that some wondered whether it was a Beck record masquerading as a 25-year-old, 500-copy vanity release. Wilson's girl-crazy yelp and jazz-spiked new wave returns on Mary Had Brown Hair, a seamless, sincere collection of avant-pop that could've been recorded the day after Wilson wrapped You Think You Really Know Me. The new disc contains two retreads and 14 new songs, which range from instrumental fragments to anxious teenage love poems like "Debbie Debbie," where Wilson's quivery helium voice, presented over cheap drum-machine beats and minimalist keyboards, makes him sound like the most charming stalker in town.
Like You Think You Really Know Me, Mary Had Brown Hair makes a virtue of Wilson's limitations. He's no musical genius, but he maintains an almost obsessive focus on forging a singular, unified sound from influences that encompass the obviously catchy as well as the freeform. Wilson then filters everything through his nerdy lover-man persona. Only a handful of musicians had heard of Wilson prior to Beck's mention of him in "Where It's At," but his work has been an inspiration nonethelessproof that home recording doesn't have to be limited to lo-fi punk and basement-pop symphonies, and proof that artists needn't always worry about finding an audience. His spirit infects modern iconoclasts like Animal Collective, whose sensational album Sung Tongs sounds like an idle tape-manipulation experiment that sprouted weird and wondrously.
No contemporary musician sounds more Gary Wilson-y than one-man-band Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, whose self-released The Doldrums has been reissued on Animal Collective's label Paw Tracks. A lot of The Doldrums collapses into indulgent experimentation best left in the closet, but the record also breaks frequently for wonders like "Good Kids Make Bad Grown Ups," which sounds like three or four '70s California Top 40 classics spliced together and then broadcast from the dank corner of a public shower. Pink is something of a mystery man at the moment, but there's evidence that he has a shelf full of equally woozy and soulful Doldrums follow-ups sitting in his Los Angeles home studio. If any of them has a song as stunning as "For Kate I Wait"a bubblegum-disco track bounced half a dozen times off the stratospherethen underground-rock fans might have found themselves a new cult weirdo.