“Dan, It is nice to see born-in-Vermont culture in the music section of Seven Days with your writing — real Vermonters don’t give a damn about Phish.” So begins the curious letter that would serve as my introduction to one of Montpeculiar’s most intriguing peculiarities, Forrest Mulerath. Several months ago, Mulerath’s latest effort landed on my desk, accompanied by the letter and packaged in a jewel case more kindergarten crafts than DIY. To wit: Mulerath’s name appears on the cover via some concoction of Elmer’s glue and sparkles. Whether it arrived by mail, carrier pigeon or some sort of otherworldly magic, I can’t recall. After listening to the disc, none of the three would have surprised me. However this nugget of experimental indie-folk came to me, Screaming Homemade Prayers in a Madman’s House is the most mystifying local release I’ve heard in a very long time.
The album begins with “In the Quiet Clarity of a Hangover” (CLICK HERE TO LISTEN), which is an apt example of the scattered brilliance found throughout. A gently finger-picked guitar line introduces Mulerath’s fractured baritone, accompanied by a charmingly clumsy banjo. The song builds slowly as strings and horns enter the fray, culminating in a sonic tempest fueled by disjointed marching-band-style drums.
Individually, each piece of this puzzle is flawed. Guitar and banjo parts rarely sync up. The string and horn lines are frequently out of key, as are the songwriter’s vocals. It shouldn’t work. But it does. Somehow Mulerath and his cohorts divine idiosyncratic beauty from imperfection. “I met this derelict, he was perfect,” muses Mulerath, as if describing his own song.
Homemade Prayers is laden with just this sort of brilliant madness. Fans of freak-folk auteur Devendra Banhart will find a lot to love here, though Mulerath more closely resembles a combination of Camper Van Beethoven’s David Lowry and The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt. The album was recorded in Brattleboro’s Old Stone Church; the natural reverb enhances the album’s intimate warmth and breeds a sort of quaint familiarity, as though Mulerath has invited us into his living room — or down the rabbit hole.
I have to admit that I initially dismissed this disc without listening to it, fully expecting the ramblings of a backwoods, off-the-grid nutcase. And maybe that wasn’t far off. But what’s that old adage about book covers? Screaming Homemade Prayers in a Madman’s House is defiantly lo-fi and singularly artistic. It is flawed, curiously strange and entirely fascinating. I met this derelict, he was perfect . . .