Friday, November 8, 2013

Review: bonnie 'prince' billy (self titled)

         I think I can safely speak for most people when I say that nine out of ten albums recorded live by one guy in his house get less than one full listen. Of course, there are a few exceptions to that standard. “All Hail West Texas” by the Mountain Goats and “Yip Jump Music” by Daniel Johnston come to my mind when thinking of valuable albums of the type. It seems to me that the ones that are worth listening to, in their honest simplicity, go far beyond some of the more complicated masterpieces one may have in their collection, in terms of connecting with the listener or presenting a pure and original idea. For example, David Bowie produced and sang on Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” single and that’s an amazing tune, but lately I’ve been spending a little more time with Jason Molina’s cut of “In the Human World” from the Chunklet single.
            All this being said, Bonnie “Prince” Billy just released a self-titled LP run of 1,000 copies out of his house. Taking the DIY initiative to its fullest extent, this record was: recorded, designed, packaged, and delivered to local record stores all by the man himself (no online/digital option) with no label affiliation or distribution whatsoever (PR∞), bearing only his P.O. box address on the back and a mastering credit, in the liner notes, to Timothy Stollenwerk. From what I’ve heard it’s only available on vinyl and cassette, but The Royal Stable does list a CD release. This album has all of the musical integrity Oldham’s followers have come to expect over the last two decades stripped down to its most basic elements. Ten short songs, a man and his guitar.
“I heard of a source,” opens the album with a change of heart tale in its own abstract way, announcing “I don’t want to go to Hell anymore… Anything can end suddenly; still I want some love for me.” The A side is largely reminiscent of the ballad form, highly melodic and sentimental extrapolations of loss and redemption. The track “I Will Be Born Again (Again)” recalls times of betrayal and abandonment with a yearning to overcome evil wills of others. “Weird has come and life defined, I am dumb I am not kind and I will be born again again.”
One thing that continuously surprises me about Bonnie “Prince” Billy is that his command of the craft allows him to say some of the most vulgar and nonsensical things with the greatest sincerity, conviction, and image. Just to name one of the many instances that appear on this self-titled album, in the song “Make it Not an Evil Mark,” the speaker describes a yearning to trade in evil for good while eluding a dark antagonist. He claims “you would take colors all away if it was in your power, and cut a hole to mar you skin and shit on every flower.”
The over-arching theme of the album seems to be an acceptance of the evil in oneself developed through loss and heartbreak, while longing for a change of heart or spark of good to spread. The final song, “Royal Quiet Deluxe,” may be one of the greatest written in 2013. It departs from a lover to find refuge in the hills of West Virginia, stating “there is no heaven for love, it simply dies… This is the last song of its kind. Now you can be.”

As I said earlier, this is an incredibly small release so be sure to get a copy before they sell out!