Bonnie 'Prince' Billy: I See A Darkness

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy: I See A Darkness

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Bonnie "Prince" Billy

Album: I See A Darkness
Label: Palace

Will Oldham doesn't make life easy for completists, critics, or archivists: He not only switches his instrumental accompaniment, his on-again/off-again supporting players, and even his overall tone from record to record, but he's always changing the name of his damn band, whether it's Palace Brothers, Palace Songs, Palace Music, Palace, Will Oldham, or the latest incarnation, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, which now records for the new Palace Records label. If the semantics seem like a bit of a distraction, they don't detract from the marvelous I See A Darkness, which may just represent the most appropriate synthesis yet of Oldham's vocals and a backing band. In the past, his squeaky and straining—but undeniably compelling—voice hasn't always worked alongside cluttersome accouterments: The most obvious example, Arise Therefore, features tinny percussion that threatens to ruin an otherwise beautiful collection of songs. Conversely, the best results have often been derived from little more than Oldham and a guitar, with the brilliant Palace Brothers (a.k.a. Days In The Wake) standing as his masterpiece. But I See A Darkness is remarkable in its own right. Its stately but multidimensional arrangements—has Oldham ever recorded a song as elegant as "A Minor Place"?—are never overbearing (a problem on last year's Joya), but they never fade into the ether, either. And Oldham's characteristically obtuse lyrics are, as always, alternately haunting ("Every terrible thing is a relief / Even months on end buried in grief / are easy light times which have to end / with the coming of your death friend") and both disarmingly sing-songy and deceptively simple ("Ding! Dong! A silly song / Sure do say something's wrong / Smile awhile / Forget the bile / and watch it all come down"). Like Oldham's best work, I See A Darkness is alternately baffling and revelatory, revealing more with each successive listen. Terrific.