Will Oldham's albums rarely go where you might expect them to which is all part of the charm of being in the company of such a distinctive songwriter and performer. On this latest offering there is much for fans of the more folkish, musically understated side of B"P"B to enjoy. This is epitomised by the wonderful, haunted and haunting "New Whaling" in which Oldham regrets his actions leading to the loss of a much cherished lover. The soft musical accompaniment with marvellous backing vocals from Angel Olsen (Oldham's chosen female counterfoil on this album)and trusty sidekick Emmett Kelly belies the tone of the lyrics; all regret and bitterness "I ended her, ended him, ended it all".
Elsewhere minimalism is the theme with the beautiful, barely-there opening of "New Tibet" belying its lyrics which examine the origins of violence in fear, hatred and power. And contrasts between music and lyrics persist through the album which explores life's big themes in a confident whisper rather than the scream which more conventional songwriters would employ. It's often difficult to remember that there is a band at work here with the musical accompaniment minimal and every note seemingly chosen individually for maximum impact. When the full band does kick in as in the closing moments of the excellent "Cows" when Emmet Kelly's electric guitar breaks through the silence the effect is startling - the light more blinding because of the darkness before it. Also worthy of note throughout the album are the excellent harmony and backing vocals with the aforementioned Angel Olsen giving stunning performances throughout. Oldham himself has never sounded in finer voice and the production gives the listener the impression of being there in the studio with the performers in a way that is incredibly powerful given the moments of pin-drop silence that punctuate these songs.
Finally, it's safe to say there will not be pinker packaging than this on any album this year (how much more pink could this CD be ? none) but don't let that put you off. This is a fantastic examination of the quieter, deeper Will Oldham and I suspect Angel Olsen will be a name we'll hear more of too.
At times the music is dirgecountry - Will Oldham's trademark cagey and occasional dissonant vocal crawling through painfully slow and barren songs - but I still love it! It is at the very least distinctive and interesting, but it's obviously more than this: that very sedentary singing drawing you close to the lyrics and confronting the raw emotion. Yet this album is much more varied than this, and his touring band of Ben Boye, Van Campbell, Shahzad Ismaily, Emmett Kelly, Danny Kiely, and Angel Olsen provide excellent instrumental accompaniment as well as soaring harmonies and other attendant vocal embellishments. Don't put it on to get the party going, but play in those quiet moments where thoughtful introspection and gentle pleasures are desired.
This is a detailed, focused and gorgeous record, and the purity - of song, musicianship and writing - is marvelous. Bonnie recently name-checked June Tabor before a performance of 'Black Captain' and I am reminded of her records listening to this. The band bring a quiet intensity to these songs rarely heard on modern albums and expose real beauty within them. Intimately and sensitively recorded, with spare and lovely playing from Emmett Kelly on guitar, this is a grower that gets better and better. There's also a lightness of touch at play, so although tempo and instrument-wise its on a par with 'Master and Everyone', it seems way less spooked and claustrophobic, soothing even! As ever, the lyrics are full of mystery, humor and love. Angel Olsen's vocal cameos are magnificent too and a fitting compliment to Will's voice which is in incredibly fine fettle, supported by the varied vocal backing of the players. A return to from of sorts, and my current fave BPB - it rewards your time. (I tell you what though, I'd love it if he made a straight ahead, up-tempo rock record)
A lovely album full of beautiful melodies and harmonies.This is my favourite album of "The Bonnie Prince`s" for a while.If you know his music then you cant go wrong. If you are new to it and enjoy gentle, introspective Americana/Folk songs then check it out. An album highlight of my year studded with gems such as 50 Words for Snow, Diamond Mine, Let England Shake and more. Its really that good and should be more widely appreciated.