Drag City Records – January 27th, 2015
My introduction to Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy was more or less recent, at least in the context of Will Oldham’s twenty-two year career. I was moved by the simplicity and honesty found on his self-titled album, released in mid-2013, which caused me to do a lot of catching up with his music which preceded it. His most recent issue, “Mindlessness,” was issued in late-January this year, and features a cut from his 2014 album Singers Grave – A Sea of Tongues, as well as a new song, “Blindlessness,” for its B-side.
The single, “Mindlessness,” is a poppy alt-country track, adorned with banjo, mandolin, and gospel choir – it has a similar sound to many of the tracks found on his 2009 release, Beware. Throughout the song, Oldham fills his verses with an array of existential questions – “What was I saying / where do I stand?” and “If I pretend to be sane, will I become so?” – his chorus responds, “Nobody answers or will look me in my eye / you are out my mind, and now so am I.” Left without the answers he was looking for, the chorus is repeated, still, and more cheerfully with each succession – if Oldham can live without these answers, surely the listener can, too.
Having first been exposed to Bonnie “Prince” Billy as a stripped-down, guitar and voice musician, “Blindlessness” was more familiar sounding to me. Here, Oldham is accompanied by his acoustic guitar, electric bass, layers of his own voice, and the sporadic barking of a small dog. This song is sparsely textured, especially in juxtaposition to the music found on the other side of the single – much like in his self-titled record, rather than strumming, he simply imitates his vocal melodies with notes on his guitar. For all the joyfulness of “Mindlessness,” this track is quite a bit more somber, and thoroughly more personal and intimate. You can hear the song for yourself, and watch the official video from Drag City below:
Both songs here are really beautiful tracks, and are certainly worth a listen – you can find the 7″, as well as digital downloads of the release on Drag City’s website.
Ben Southworth – March 8th, 2015 – Maxwell and Hagerman
Genre: Dreamy Folk-Pop
When I started programming shows at WRFL – my first regular spot was a much-fought-over 3-6 AM slot on Saturday mornings – one of the records I found myself playing the most was Englishman’s self-titled LP. Early in 2013, knowing that he had an EP on the way, it’s safe to say that I’ve been waiting on Unsafe & Sound with a healthy dose of anticipation since the last time it was cold in Lexington. Finally in November, it was a sudden release, but I find myself more than happy to have waited until now.
Sonically, Unsafe & Sound is a bit of a departure from the band’s last release, but they’ve certainly departed in the correct direction. Although Englishman’s music has always had a bit of added texture from various found sounds and electronics, this album expands the flavor – songs like “More than Insects” and “Fiercest Warrior” are swimming in it. The lead off track, “Fill a Silo,” has a certain “Kentucky” feel to it, perhaps due to its opening lyrics: “Mountains and minerals take years to unravel, the people who love them don’t often travel. They don’t get flu shots, don’t have TVs, live by the weather and the honeybees” – it’s the best first track to an album I’ve heard in a long time.
All seven songs on this EP are solid tracks, making it pretty difficult to say which is the best – on my first listen through, I was at a loss on which to choose. The pacing, ordering, and substance of the album and each song it contains truly makes this one of the most solid collection of songs that has been released since I started paying attention to Lexington music a couple years ago. “At 25” and “We’re the Monsters” are both big-sounding songs that I could listen to on repeat, and (as mentioned before,) “Fill a Silo” is masterfully written. “We’re the Monsters,” though, is wonderfully strange and at the same time, it’s everything a pop song should be – between verses of stark dissonance, are chorus sections that ring with the voices of what sounds like a full choir. It’s my favorite at the moment, but the simple beauty of the tune that follows it – “Dear Life,” a track that features mostly Andrew English with additional instruments padded softly below – is perfectly placed as the album’s closer.
An album that explores the “feeling that the ways in which we participate in the human experience are changing too rapidly to process,” the album will leave you feeling the need to slow down. Perhaps it embodies a sense of intentionality, but certainly a sense of self-awareness in thinking and digesting the experiences that life offers. Though it bears the label of an “EP,” Unsafe & Sound is a work that contains more than enough substance to feel like a majorly strong release.
Tracks I Liked: Fill A Silo!!!, Kids and Bipolars!, More than Insects!!, Fiercest Warriors!, At 25!!, We’re the Monsters!!!, Dear Life!!
You can also hear the music live at Cosmic Charlie’s this Friday, November 22nd. Find out more here.
Ben Southworth – Tuesday, November 19th, 2013 – Maxwell & Hagermann