Anna Minard claims to "know nothing about music." For this column, we force her to listen to random records by artists considered to be important by music nerds.
DANIEL JOHNSTON Songs of Pain (Stress Records)
The first song on Songs of Pain is "Grievances," a lo-fi recording of a man playing tinny but smooth piano and singing a sort of wacky folk ballad. He's got an interesting voice—really high, with a Southern accent and conversational delivery—and the song makes sense, mostly. "I saw you at the funeral/You were standing there like a temple/I said, 'Hi, how are you, hello'/And I pulled up the casket and crawled in." It's goofy and sweet and gets you excited about what's to come.
In the second track, things go a certain way: a retelling of the story of Christianity. Okay, sure. It starts to sound less carefully written, it gives you a prickle of a question in your head, but you have to hear it to understand why. "He never did bad to anyone/He never did no wrong" could work in tons of music, but something's different here. Who is this guy?