30 November 2012

Spotify Playlist :: December 2012

Hey friends and readers--I made you all a playlist for the month of December. Because I love you. It's a playlist filled with loneliness, darkness, light, hope, joy, despair, death, drinking, and religion. December is a lonely time for some, and special time for others. Here's to us getting through it together, with or without medication.

Some notes on the playlist if you're so inclined to read those sorts of things:

1. The Clientele, "Since K Got Over Me" - Asheville through Sam's Gap, all the way to Kinsport, TN - frigid winds - "it's like walking on a trampoline"

2. Wilco, "I Might" - borrowed my brother's car, it smelled like Old Spice and onions - "you won't set the kids on fire, oh, but I might"

3. My Morning Jacket, "Xmas Curtain" - out of college, applying for shitty jobs - the sparseness of winter air - "the criminal who never breaks the law"

4. Sun Kil Moon, "Carry Me Ohio" - early damp mornings, teaching college - the highways were empty, the countryside a friend - "sorry, I could never love you"

5. Sufjan Stevens, "Oh Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head! (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!)" - why the heater won't work, I don't know - coffee is too hot to drink - no snow for this year, but definitely snow in Michigan - "Industry! Industry!"

6. Damien Jurado, "December" - taking medication for my mind - wondering where the future is - "cause one day I'll kill you, too"

7. Bob Dylan, "Not Dark Yet" - packed like sardines in an apartment - sharing floorspace with my brother - an early Christmas present "it's not dark yet, but it's getting there"

8. Halloween, Alaska, "The Jealous Ones" - so much traffic - not sure this new year will pay off - "you're half right, you're mostly right"

9. Beach House, "Norway" - January won't stop raining - not alone anymore - where do I go from here? - "we were sleeping til, you came along"

10. Destroyer, "Virgin With a Memory" - mornings last forever - spending money I don't have - a striking warmth here with you - "the singer not the song, no"

11. Ida, "Lovers Prayers" - I may not ever figure this out - so much to do, too much time to do it - you may never finish what you started - "watching the sun turn black in the desert sky"

12. Low, "Long Way Around the Sea" - is this what Christmas can be? shot full of possibilities? - a new faith - "Herod heard, said bring me word"

27 November 2012

15 November 2012

Will Oldham Discography: Entry #1, Part 2

(Palace, There Is No One What Will Take Care of You)
(Palace Brothers, Days In the Wake)

After reviewing Will Oldham on Bonnie "Prince" Billy for PopMatters, I decided it was time to start an experiment I've always envisioned--listening to an artists' entire discography. And, of course, blogging about it to the excitement of absolutely no one.

Days In the Wake wasn't the first Will Oldham album I heard, but it was the first one that I cared about. To begin, the cover of the album is something altogether unnatural. There is no indication of  album name, artist name, or what the contents might hold. It's cryptic and unsettling in a deliberate and enticing way. Not really knowing (or needing to know) who (or what) the image on the album cover is, makes it appealing. Almost as if the cover were an afterthought, an indirect assertion of murkiness.

But the album cover stands in complete contrast to the music on Days In the Wake. Oldham's voice is clearer, his songwriting has ticked up a notch or two, and there appear to be song structures and chord progressions in fistfuls. "You Will Miss Me When I Burn," despite having one of the best titles in the Oldham catalog, is a defining moment. I hear the early slivers of Oldham finding his voice, identifying with themes that he will return to, and plotting out melodic, repetitive choruses. "In the corners there is light/That is good for you/And behind you, I have warned you/There are awful things," Oldham sings over a distant acoustic guitar. Those are the corners he will spend much of his music exploring, fighting off the awful things behind us.

Days In the Wake has so many affective songs that it's hard to single out just one as beacon. Closer "I Am a Cinematographer" repeatedly makes it onto my late-night playlists and "Pushkin" is as close to a sing-along as we'll get from Oldham at this stage. Even seemingly filler tracks like "Come a Little Dog," complete with dog barks and yelling harmonies is unbroken in its abandon. And "Whither Thou Goest" is just stationary. It's a perfectly competent song, but doesn't hold up against the luster of, say, "(Thou) Without Partner" or "Meaulnes."

"No More Workhorse Blues" is a pivotal centerpiece to Days In the Wake. It's as anthemic as we're apt to get thus far into Oldham's career where he's still tweaking his persona and (literally) tuning his voice. And, so far, there's no better example of that then when he raises his voice up forcefully to declare: "I am no more workhorse, I am a grazing horse." For others it might be an admission of defeat or a declaration of dependency; for Oldham, it sounds like a call to arms.

Highlight Track: Tie between "You Will Miss Me When I Burn" and "I Am a Cinematographer." "Burn" may inch it out by a millimeter, just because of it's stronger lyrical content.
Weakest Track: "Whither Thou Goest" It's not bad, it's just not good.
Strangest Moment: Hearing Oldham bark on "Come a Little Dog"
Other Stray Observations:
  • The album was originally untitled or was self-titled Palace Brothers when it was released
  • The photo on the cover is apparently someone drinking a pint of beer
  • Complete album runtime is 26 minutes and 55 seconds
  • Do not try to listen to this album in your car--it does not work. Listen to it on vinyl or with headphones. 
  • I think "Come a Little Dog" is the only track with other musicians besides Oldham.
  • Much like Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska, this album seems to thrive on its own simplicity. And, like Nebraska, it was released at a time when excess in commercial music was de rigueur--April, 2004. Now that I've just written that statement, I think there's a good essay to be written about those two albums together.

08 November 2012

Will Oldham Discography: Entry #1, Part 1

(Palace, There Is No One What Will Take Care of You)
(Palace Brothers, Days In the Wake)

After reviewing Will Oldham on Bonnie "Prince" Billy for PopMatters, I decided it was time to start an experiment I've always envisioned--listening to an artists' entire discography. And, of course, blogging about it to the excitement of absolutely no one.

To begin with, I'm biased towards Days In the Wake. I had never heard There Is No One before I started this bustling journey. And while it might be unfair to compare these two LPs together in the same post, I think they work together as a duo and as a primer to the realm of Will Oldham's music.

There Is No One is brazen in its amateurishness. Oldham's voice cracks several times on key tracks, tempos shift sporadically, and the mix could never be defined as "clear." On songs like "King Me" and "I Tried to Stay Healthy For You," Oldham's vocals are frustratingly buried underneath louder acoustic instruments that reach into the higher, ear-piercing registers of your brain. (Especially that slide guitar that shows up on "O Paul" which somehow manages to jab a nerve repeatedly when it shows up.) It's a understandable move; Oldham sounds vocally confident on some tracks, but nearly as much as he does on Days In the Wake. This is, after all, his first recorded material. Prior to this he was starring in films and theater productions. Most artists work hard on their early albums to mask the singers' voice. Lennon famously double-tracked his vocals at almost every chance he got because he didn't like the way he sounded and Jimi Hendrix never believed that he was able to sing at all, hence all the spoken phrases in his songs. But Oldham definitely has a go-for-broke delivery on There Is No One, and some of the best tracks are the ones where he sounds like he doesn't give a fuck how his voice sounds: opener "Idle Hands Are the Devil's Playthings," "King Me" with it's spoken pulpit-sermon bridge, and "Riding" with all its low-register menace and lyrically vague notions of incest.

Then there's "I Was Drunk At the Pulpit," a song made up entirely of one chord on acoustic guitar and Oldham's singing. One chord and one only. And there are natural times when a chord change is warranted, but Oldham ignores them, instead forging ahead with his lone chord like it's him and his guitar against a hostile audience. It's more than clear that Oldham is finding his way through the songwriting process, feeling in the dark for some solid form to grab hold of. But it does feel like Oldham threw out the rules, decided on simplicity only, and made a record just to see if he could. Who knew that such simple beginnings would take him to where he is now?

Highlight Track: Tie between "Idle Hands Are the Devil's Playthings" for just being a great song that gets stuck in your head and "Riding" because it sounds like a Bonnie "Prince" Billy song before BPB existed.

Weakest Track: For some reason, "O Lord Are You In Need?" turns me off. Too plodding? Too repetitive?

Strangest Moment: Probably waiting in vain for the chord to change in "I Was Drunk at the Pulpit"

Other Stray Observations:
  • "Long Before" definitely feels like it is six minutes long. It's a big let down and momentum killer after "Idle Hands"
  • "There Is No-One What Will Take Care of You" is sung by someone else--but I don't know who.
  • "Merida" is oddly forgettable. I was hoping based on its title that it wouldn't be.
  • "King Me" was apparently Oldham trying to be Solomon Burke. 
  • "I Had a Good Mother and Father" is a cover song by Washington Phillips. Gilliam Welch also covers it on Soul Journey but it is listed as "I Had a Real Good Mother and Father." I would not have known that without first reading Will Oldham on Bonnie "Prince" Billy

01 November 2012

PopMatters Review: Will Oldham on Bonnie "Prince" Billy

(Will Oldham on Bonnie "Prince" Billy, W.W. Norton, 2012)
New book review available for you to read on PopMatters. Read and enjoy at this link (or click the image above).

And follow along as I plow through most all of Will Oldham's discography, starting with his first two albums, Palace's There is No One What Will Take Care of You, and Palace Brothers' Days In the Wake.