The modern reissue industry can be mercenary, with so little left uncovered by the world wide web that reissue labels today rely on crafty compiling, pretty packaging and – most importantly – canny marketing to produce meaningful statements. Genuine discovery now seems impossible. Light in the Attic are among the more convincing of reissue labels, with carefully assembled collections of appealing rarities, put out in beautiful and informative vinyl and CD issues. They deserve particular praise for their ‘discovery’ of Lewis Baloue, a revelatory unearthing of a unique underground artist until recently, if the story is to be believed, living in an internet void; an artist whose finger was so closely on a pulse beating 30 odd years into the future that he’s made today’s music sound different. While increasing evidence points to Lewis as a bona fide 1980s outsider genius, this is incredible music from any time.
But it is all rather perfect. Briefly, the story goes that the first Lewis album, L’Amour from 1983, was recently discovered in a flea market and reissued by Light in the Attic earlier this year. Attempts were made to track down the artist (real name Randall A. Wulff, hence the label), and by the time 1985’s Romantic Times turned up soon after, Light in the Attic claimed to have found the real Wulff alive and well and happily reclusive in Canada. Presented with the reissues and stories of his new found fandom Wulff was indifferent, and uninterested in any potential royalties. The label claim to be holding any profits aside should he change his mind, which certainly lends credibility to the story (while the images presented of Wulff today, lounging like Heffner in white robe and deck chair, make it harder to swallow).
Before you even hear Lewis the cover art will seduce you, both featuring monochrome images of Wulff in golden boy character: close up and California coiffured like a shy Corbin Bernson on Amore; white suited amidst Mercedes and Learjet on Romantic Times. Then you hear his voice, hushed and close like a narcotised Julio Iglesius, love cliches (guessed from track titles – ‘Even Rainbows Get the Blues’, ‘Love Showered Me’ – Wulff’s vocals are indecipherable) whispered through sparse guitar, piano and synthesiser gasps, and you’re swooning. Both L’Amour and Romantic Times are skeletal affairs, processed to a wispy shadow, the former naive and guarded, the latter more mannered. It’s this element that’s most disarmingly contemporary. We’re not used to 1980s recordings sounding like such a hypnagogic echo of itself, such that hearing an original relic now that did this then, almost renders the whole hypnagogic project redundant (if it wasn’t already).
The music and production throughout is reminiscent of Badalamenti’s work with Julee Cruise, but warmer, giving off a honeyed LA glow that Twin Peaks’ Washington could never project. In the guitar based L’Amour tracks ‘Cool Night In Paris’ and ‘My Whole Life’, his lazy picking reminds me of Michael Hurley at his stoned best, or even Willie Nelson’s sacharine strings-backed ditties. Songs are short and so ethereal they drift by almost without notice, certainly making no effort at confrontation, or even much engagement; so lightweight it’s heavy.
Romantic Times opener ‘We Danced All Night’ begins with Lewis’s most sinister moment, staggered multitrack sax riffs on ‘Strangers in the Night’, crushed into marshmallow. Where Lynch and Badalamenti sought to reframe Roy Orbison psychodrama for Cruise, transforming the horns of ‘Blue Angel’ into the terrifying skronks of ‘Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart’, Lewis blends the Tin Pan Alley of Sinatra with the psychedelic fluff of bedroom new age. On Romantic Times Wulff is trying harder to beguile, and is less convincing – and more unsettling – because of it, but it’s the logical extension of L’Amour.
What we now know, now that the forensic ferocity of the internet has crawled all over Wulff and his world, is that he went on in the 1990s to record less obfuscated material for the album Love Aint No Mystery, a 90 minutes cassette of 6+ minute naked guitar and voice songs about heartbreak. Apparently he’s still making music and has turned his back on this period, now its time to turn our ears towards it.