Release Date: Mar 18, 2016
Record label: Drag City
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Neo-Psychedelia, Space Rock
By the time you finished breakfast Will Oldham had already completed three new works that find the artist known as Bonnie “Prince” Billy casting his creative seed in no fewer than four directions. He can sing a Graham Nash tune in Portuguese, hang with King Crimson associates California Guitar Trio long enough to play some Skynyrd, then record a collection of Everly Brothers cuts with one of his most stunning collaborators, Dawn McCarthy. But he’s never eclectic for eclectic’s sake.
This collaboration between vintage equipment loving ambient experimentalists Bitchin Bajas and alt.country deity Bonnie 'Prince' Billy is one of the most immersive albums since The KLF’s Chill Out. Bitchin Bajas’ style of incorporating old analogue synths with acoustic instruments is there in all its disorienting glory. Meanwhile, Oldham’s voice is a perfect accompaniment, slotting over the top of the music in way that helps it become more enthralling, rather than stamping his own character all over it and distracting from the sentiment.
Over the past decade, Bonnie "Prince" Billy has experimented with a cornucopia of collaborators, from nearly every genre of music, from film scores with David Byrne to albums with Chicago math-rockers Tortoise, Louisville psych band Phantom Family Halo, Faun Fables' Dawn McCarthy and, perhaps most successfully pairing of all, country-rock outfit the Cairo Gang. For his latest, the ever-prolific songwriter changes his tune slightly, joining forces with the Chicago-based experimental drone trio Bitchin Bajas. But unlike some of Will Oldham's previous collaborative albums, this one really works.
Regardless of who he's working with, Will Oldham's voice is the dominant ingredient of his collaborations. If he's singing a quiet Everly Brothers duet with Dawn McCarthy or crooning on a record with the Cairo Gang, he's the piece of the puzzle that grabs your attention most readily. Even in fleeting cameo appearances, like the moments where he sings on Sun Kil Moon's "Carissa," his presence lingers long after he's done singing.
The third outing from the Cooper Crain-led, Windy City-based experimental trio sees the Bitchin Bajas teaming up with the equally mercurial Will Oldham (aka Bonnie "Prince" Billy) for a good, old-fashioned minimalist hoedown. The aptly named Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties offers up a trance-inducing set of bucolic folk emissions that pair elliptical melodies with Oldham riffing on fortune-cookie aphorisms. Opener "May Life Throw You a Pleasant Curve" eases the listener into the float tank with a summery, Incredible String Band-inspired refrain and Oldham's affable warble, and coming in at just over three minutes, it serves as a pleasant apéritif.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy Pond Scum **** Domino WIG 374 (CD/LP) Bitchin’ Bajas & Bonnie “Prince” Billy Epic Jammers And Fortunate Little Ditties **** Drag City DC 648 (CD/2LP) Will Oldham’s recent career has seen him often revisiting and reinterpreting selections from his formidable catalogue, the long overdue issue of his Peel sessions show that this is clearly an instinctive move on his part. Fans unfamiliar with the sessions will find their eyes drawn immediately to The Cross, a cover of the Sign ‘O’ The Times Prince song. It’s a wild-eyed, raw rendition that reminds the listener of the thematic similarities (mainly sex and faith) of the two artists’ work.