Don't worry. If you've not heard of prolific North Dakota songwriter June Panic, whose 1999 album Glory Hole was Secretly Canadian's first release, you're not alone--I hadn't heard of him until recently either. The Bloomington, Indiana-based label is hoping to change that. Nearly a decade later, the label that brought Okkervil River and Magnolia Electric Company to the forefront is standing by their first artist by releasing a whopping three-CD set of Panic's nearly-destroyed recordings that were made, according to the press release, "in vans, dark basements, and tiny apartments in Grand Forks and Fargo, North Dakota, using crappy microphones and an even crappier four-track."
And the reason I quoted from it is that that description is right on. In a good way. Panic's albums tended to have at least 20 tracks and clocked in at over 75 minutes; these songs are the earliest surviving documents of a young artist's raw powers. At times a raw shrieking and other times more nasally folk, angst is ever present in his voice. Songs about Satan and Lawrence Welk co-exist as do sounds as disparate as glam, folk, and punk rock.
With a track list that tops 50, there are certainly some tracks that hold up better than others. What Secretly Canadian has done well is juxtapose Panic's many stylings to chart a musician's earliest experiments. This is interesting listening even for newcomers. There's "Me + A Baby Panther," a delicate plucky synth and drum-box driven tune that drones like a Medieval dirge. Other tracks, like "Dancing On The Graves Of Those We Loved," are more traditional guitar-driven lo-fi folk tunes. Songs like "Birthday Present" and "That Parade" ring reminiscently of the grunge leanings of the times.
This collection is definitely something for die-hard fans, but I hope that it will also entice some newcomers into June Panic's extensive catalogue; there's something really raw, pure, and intriguing in Songs From Purgatory that certainly keeps me listening. • Katy Henriksen