Archives for posts with tag: Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy
Single of the Year.

Single of the Year.

In a brief interlude in the Xmas visits of mother and in-laws, I will try to finish what I started when I published my 50 albums of the year. First up, it’s time for the best singles. This has become rather a dull category in many blogs and magazines as they tend to mostly be outstanding from outstanding albums thus producing a shuffle of the already existing list. To this end, I will only be discussing singles and EPs that do not come from albums and stand alone as releases in their own right. I also think a list is a bit of a waste of space as there are sadly only a few candidates for this new criteria.

Well, sorry to be a populist but Burial is definitely near the top of the heap again. 2011’s best EP was ‘Street Halo’ and this year it’s ‘Kindred’. The extended tracks really seem to suit this format rather than getting buried in an overly long double CD album as many electronic artists would no doubt prefer. Instead, Burial takes the difficult and makes it accessible thus displaying a certain pop savvy that his music rarely suggests. The dark urban soundscapes summoned up seem a cliché in this day and age but if something is close to perfect then it becomes very hard to criticise even if no new ground seems to be broken despite what some may say about ‘Ashtray Wasps’. To these ears it sounds wonderfully familiar but not predictable or maybe music this good implants itself in the brain with such assurance that, after 10 months, it feels like it’s always been there. Another ‘EP’ of 2 extended tracks has emerged in December but is hard to listen to much when your mother is just dying to ask you to turn the music off. Initial impressions suggest something more abstract but ask me again in 10 months. Not many other electronica EPs gripped me though I did quite like Theo Parrish’s ‘HandMade’ EP which is some kind of deep house so I’m told but I really don’t pretend to be au fait with the terms of these things preferring instead the ‘if I like it, I’ll play it’ approach of John Peel.

A few indie singles have raised their impressive heads above the bland parapets set for them in the United Kingdom. Savages are unsurprisingly lauded over for being cool but in reality ‘Husbands’ sounds like that post-punk band you could never quite find when you rediscovered the music about 10 years ago thanks to that Rough Trade compilation. Palma Violets have also been hyped because they sound like the next nostalgically laddish thing. ‘My Best Friend’ is okay but sounds like it needs a bit of work. ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ on the flip sounds a little more interesting but could herald in a whole new generation of nostalgic bands making references to 70s/80s confectionary and sitcoms a la Lawrence’s Denim 20 years ago. Just wait for ‘Ever Decreasing Circles’ by either ‘Spangles’ or ‘Pacers’. Much better was Charlie Boyer and the Voyeurs’ ‘I Watch You/ Be Nice’ which just went to prove that more bands should sound a bit like Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers, including Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers.

King Creosote had a busy year for EPS releasing 3 12″ singles that were also available for download and that seemed to help cement his reputation post-Diamond Mine without quite hitting the same heights. Obviously Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy featured ona  few singles with a cover of Leon Russell’s ‘Hummingbird’ the pick of the bunch. However, the essential Will Oldham purchase of the year had to be the extended interview published by Faber & Faber that stretched to over 300 pages covering every release of his career thus guaranteeing that it immediately went out of date. Daniel Rossen’s EP merits a mention for being better than the Grizzly Bear album itself to my ears if no-one else’s.

Compilation albums have become a rarer beast as anyone can make one for nowt these days. Still, the Four Tet singles collection ‘Pink’ suggests he hasn’t lost his mojo even if his mojo has become a tad predictable. ‘Country Funk’ did exactly what it says on the sleeve as did a couple of Northern Soul compilations: ‘For Northern Soul Lovers Vol. 1’ represented the better value at a fiver on Amazon UK, but ‘Up All Night’ on Charly hit the right spot with more tunes even if many were familiar and it was really just a partial reissue of an old compilation. Basically, everyone needs a few Northern Soul compilations in their collection and either or both of these would suit fine.

Reissues were aplenty but seem increasingly uninspired in many cases. This criticism cannot be levelled at Can’s ‘Lost Tapes’ which serves as a more stimulating piece than a number of their proper albums. The My Bloody Valentine flawed remasters finally appeared along with a compilation of single tracks which was more essential. ‘Loveless’ came as a double CD featuring two different versions which are almost identical. In fact, I cannot think of any reason to listen to both. What is missing is a reissue of everything from the pre-Creation days as the world needs to hear ‘Strawberry Wine’ again as well as ‘Lovely Sweet Darlene’. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy reissued his early work with the only alteration being a cardboard sleeve and the removal of all Palace references from them. Anyone forking out for these who already owns the originals will be most annoyed but they would have made it easier for new fans to follow the interview book mentioned above.

The Weeknd’s ‘Trilogy’ qualified as a reissue of last year’s 3 free to download albums, ‘House of Balloons’, ‘Thursday’ and ‘Echoes of Silence’. All are excellent and serve as a moody counterpoint to the more glamorous face of modern RnB. Abel Tesfaye is a truly talented artist who clearly has a lot more to give but may now need to develop more light and shade to surpass Frank Ocean’s critical appeal.

Is that it? Nicolas Jaar’s Essential Mix is still downloadable for nothing despite being one of the few mixes I would happily listen to more than twice. Soundtracks didn’t really do it for me as always though ‘The Man with the Iron Fists’ was the best Wu release of the year but that was because the expected new album has been put back until 2013 for the 20th anniversary. Also, a few remix albums appeared but none sounded interesting enough for me to bother with though I need to listen to The Twilight Sad one as it seems less perfunctory than the others in the few comments on it that I’ve read.

Right, I feel I’ve done more than enough listing and may swear off altogether next year as music journalism should be about so much more than just comparing lists. So who was the winner in these categories? The Weeknd was cooler as a free download but oozes class, Burial is essential in everything he does and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy remains prolific in all areas. However, the few of us who downloaded a little-heralded single by Moons (not The Moons) in the shape of ‘The Bloody Mouth (Watchtower Version)/Waves At Night’ which also came out as a 7″ in May. Pitchfork compared it with Phoenix but it sounded so much better to my ears. Proof that warmth can be wrought from synthpop or another singer songwriter who simply bans acoustic instruments in pursuit of an original sound. Either way, or others for that matter, both songs are wonderfully atmospheric and beautiful. The single was also a stab in the dark on a dull afternoon and that is usually how the best music hits you: right between the eyes when you least expect it. You can find it here:

The author is now sworn off lists for the time being and refuses to make predictions for 2013 except that he will enjoy it more than 2012.


bonnie 1

I find artists that deal with spirituality in an exploratory way refreshing and am therefore drawn to Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. I find it altogether too dismissive to simply view religion as foolish and atheism as the only choice for everybody. Also Gods and religion are familiar metaphors and symbols that can be understood fairly universally and, coming from a literary background, I can’t believe simply dismissing that rich seam of material is the best way forward. Even if that makes sense to me, it worries me that it is supposed to be so blindly followed and I also suspect that some religious people may be pretty darned intelligent. I guess I have the same problem with atheism as I do with religion, there both just clubs that people have to exclude others while embracing some. This little piece will look at a couple of paragraphs from Oldham on the subject of religion in interviews for the book edited by Alan Licht which came out earlier this year as well as the lyrics to the perhaps deceptively titled ‘There is No God’, a single released by BPB last year and a few other words too.  Anyway, over to Will Oldham a.k.a. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy (persona and identity will become part of the issue) on language, religion, bricks and mortar:

‘Our brains are so powerful and so is language, but language is like the bricks, and religion and philosophy end up becoming like the mortar that holds those bricks together. There are so many gaps in the logic of this language and how it can explain our plight, our existence, our successes, and that’s where religion seems to fit in. Language is too incomplete and religion fills in. Why do I feel bad when this happens? Well, religion comes in and says you don’t have to think about it. You can go to work the next day or do whatever, you don’t have to think about it. It fills in the cracks of what we can’t speak about, what we can’t say.

What is normally called religion is what I would tend to call music – participating in music, listening to music, making records and singing. I think records and music are more appropriate and more respectful of the human soul than the churches are. And more respectful of the needs of humans to communicate with the aspects of themselves that are neglected by language. I don’t think people think about God so much as they think about themselves and how they’re going to get through life.’

From Will Oldham on Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy ed. Alan Licht (Faber & Faber, London 2012) p. 46-7

The first paragraph quoted above essentially accepts that we cannot fill in all the gaps in our knowledge as some of them may be beyond language itself and thus inexpressible. This argument is close to one used by religious people as irrefutable proof of God and yet it also works the opposite way for me and BPB too I suspect. Essentially, this paragraph also says that when things are too difficult to deal with because of the sheer effort that may involve, it’s easier to just cop out with God – out not off. BPB is a man who accepts that belief in God exists and how it is used. He does not appear to be offering religion up as a positive or a negative in the extract, merely identifying it though perhaps a little dismissively in terms of its intellectual value.

The second paragraph looks at a more acceptable approach to religion from his point of view: music. Music here is seen as a form of collective worship which does sound pretty Christian in its thinking. Music is seen as preferable to church but nevertheless becomes the ‘mortar’ of the previous paragraph. Music then comes in and prevents difficult thought, it fills in the cracks of what we can’t speak about. Does this also mean that music is being dismissed as unintellectual? Can the lyrics to ‘There is no God’ be applied to music as well as religion? Does the song act so as to question its own existence? Time to consider the lyric to that song…

Bonnie Prince Billy – There is no God (originally released as a charity record to raise money to Save our Gulf and the Turtle Hospital)

There is no God
But that which surrounds the tongue
That which sees love in the chest
That which puts mouth on cock and vagina
Well,  THAT that is best.

There is no prayer
But that which is sung in laughter
That which is lovingly uttered
Or through gritted teeth
That which is hissed or muttered.

There is no God
There are those who will outlive you
There is a force that is many
There are teachings and taught
There is tons, there is one, there is not any! (‘courtesy’ of Royal Stable Music, I guess)

The first two verses reveal the song’s deception. It is not an atheist anthem as its seemingly bold title is immediately undermined by the ‘But’ of lines 2 and 7. It seems that there is a God in the details, which is where we are supposed to believe that the devil is according to some. He seems to be in our spittle, inside the chest rather than hearts and in the idea for oral sex. It is to be noted that Billy cracks up a little when singling the ‘cock and vagina’ line. This does seem to be a playful introduction to a playful god. Yes, it seems that God came up with the idea for oral sex and THAT God is best. Maybe the message is that there is a God and we should appreciate the ‘naughty’ though not expressly forbidden acts that he must also have created. Another area for consideration is whether the song is stating that God is everywhere or whether God is in all the insignificant things in life and not some towering, omnipotent overlord. Prayer seems to be most sincere in laughter but can also be insincere as when it is a verbal utterance, it seems two-faced. The final verse has no ‘but’, it seems to state that there is no God but our collective society or ‘many’ and yet these numbers are rendered insignificant by the end. Wouldn’t this make a wonderful sermon or ‘Thought for the Day’? Especially the ‘cock and vagina’ bits. This brings to mind the words of Oldham’s earlier Palace Brothers song ‘(I was Drunk) at the Pulpit’ –

“I was drunk at the pulpit, I knew it was wrong
I left in mid-sermon, tempted by a bar-house song
The pews creaked and shifted as they turned to watch me leave
And I pulled a little bottle from the pocket in my sleeve”

This song has a clearer message which suggests that drunken singing in a bar is much better for the soul than singing and praying in church. A sentiment I would heartily agree with though he may mean its good for the ‘chest’ rather than the soul.

'Princely' and 'Bonny' Bonnie 'Prince' Billy?

‘Princely’ and ‘Bonny’ Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy?

Going back to my prior argument, does the god of the song act as a metaphor for music rather than God? Well, not really as then the ‘prayer’ being ‘sung in laughter’ becomes muddled but then again Jesus was supposed to be the son and the father so maybe this is deliberate – music is made to honour music, music can be taught and it teaches, it is a powerful force and perhaps the final line suggests a suddenly wiped hard drive. Also, BPB has sung elsewhere that ‘You call on God and God is dead’ in ‘Love Comes To Me’, not exactly a lot of scope for belief there. However, another issue that needs some consideration is the difference between Will Oldham and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy as surely the latter acts as a kind of persona for the writer Will Oldham. If all the songs, except the ‘Joya’ album, are coming from a persona, then surely God with or without a capital letter is merely God for the persona Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and leaves no clues to actual belief. Instead, we need to go back to the interview extracts to look at the real role of religion in Will Oldham’s life and it does seem to be irrelevant unless we are to assume that God is music and music is love, not God. However, that was a particularly stoned sounding Dave Crosby song from the most stoned sounding album title of all time – ‘If I Could Only Remember My Name’ – sure, it might mean what’s left if everything is stripped away except a name, but this is Dave Crosby we’re talking about.