Once upon a time I read the NME and Melody Maker every Thursday, read all the monthlies, hung out on mailing lists and Usenet, scoured the internet for information about obscurities, made a weekly pilgrimage to Selectadisc and religiously read the weekly Rough Trade mailout. Now I buy about four albums a year and I need Dan Hartland to remind me that a new Will Oldham record is out.
I bought Beware the other week but I’ve only just had a chance to listen to it properly. I was surprised when Dan tagged his post americana because this is not a style Oldham is really associated with, apart from his deliberate and brilliant country pastiche of his own music on Greatest Palace Music, but yes, that’s what this is. As By Fuselage puts it:
Ever since adopting the name Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Will Oldham has seemed to be searching for a balance between the darkness, and occasionally unsettling oddness, of his music with a brighter, more welcoming production style. Whilst 2001’s sexy and relaxed Ease Down The Road may be the most successful of these efforts so far, Bonnie “Prince” Billy Sings Greatest Palace Music might prove the most instructive when approaching his new album Beware
Oldham is a bit of a joker. I am off to see him at the Queen Elizabeth Hall next week. Last time I saw him there he was performing in the persona of an unholy blend of Chuck Berry and Hank Williams which was frankly neither anticipated or welcome. As with his recordings, you take what comes and he is clearly made uncomfortable by expectations.
This versatility and unpredictablity is a great strength, it is a produced an eclectic string of albums I keep coming back to again and again. I probably won’t listen to Beware as regularly as Ease Down The Road or Lie Down In The Light but I don’t think this makes it any less of an album than, say, Master And Everyone, the antithesis of this in terms of production. My major complaint is that Oldham’s voice is often hemmed in by horns and backing vocals and the like (‘I Won’t Ask Again’ is pretty soupy) when really it should be allowed to stand out in all its ragged glory.
Dan has also been listening to It’s Blitz, the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album. He concludes by saying that they “remain one of the most intelligent and compelling acts to trip towards the mainstream.” This is true but I wished they had tripped a little less in that direction. Unlike Beware, I do find this a bit too polished. It is only on songs like ‘Dull Life’ – a song Pitchfork describe as generic (“Franz-Bloc-Killers modern rock riff”: spot the odd one out) – that it comes alive and I don’t think it is a coincidence that this is when Karen O’s voice and Nick Zimmer’s guitar are back to their old sparring.