I See a Darkness

Bonnie "Prince" Billy

album cover

Another Doleful Singer-Songwriter at His Brooding Peak

"If I am gone and with no trace," Will Oldham advises in the first stanza of this earthy and creakily sung record, "I will be in a minor place." This, it turns out, is his musical comfort zone. All eleven odes in this set are brooders—loaded with images that suggest hidden internal turmoil and lachrymose melodies he might have overheard while walking on winding mountain roads.

"Minor" though it may be, this place is not slight: Like Nick Drake and a few others, Oldham, working here as Bonnie "Prince" Billy, explores conflicted emotional states with great clarity and, when necessary, a withering self-awareness. Hearing his idle, stargazing songs, it's easy to imagine the Louisville, Kentucky, singer and guitarist scrawling in a journal in some remote locale, methodically sorting out his troubled relationships. On the title track, which is addressed to a longtime friend and drinking companion, he wonders whether this person detects the darkness that "comes blacking in my mind." The song moves at a glacial, inevitable pace, an audio representation of encroaching darkness.

Oldham is one of the most prolific songwriters to emerge in the 1990s. He's also among the most gifted. Working in a variety of contexts and guises—first he recorded as Palace Songs, then Palace Brothers, then under his own name or Bonnie "Prince" Billy—he's written credible alt-country as well as enduring modern folk songs that have a timeless feel. In some ways, I See a Darkness, which is his most consistently engrossing work, can be seen as a precursor to the "new folk" movement that spawned Sufjan Stevens and many others. Yet Oldham follows his own quirky path. The roots elements keep him grounded and give his often mystical images surprising resonance. Get close enough, and you may see and, even more important, feel that darkness.

Genre: Rock
Released: 1999, Palace
Key Tracks: "Minor Place," "Another Day Full of Dread," "Knockturne."
F.Y.I.: Before his singing career took off, Oldham starred in several films, including John Sayles's Matewan.
Catalog Choice: The Letting Go
Next Stop: Sufjan Stevens: Illinoise
After That: Jim O'Rourke: Eureka
Book Pages: 102–103

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Comments:

#1 from John Mangold, Toronto - 01/08/2011 5:29

I have “Future Sound of London” in a pdf file that shows the 1000 recordings.

“Future Sound of London” is not included as one of the artists on the Web site. If they were, it would make 1001 recordings.

Were they deleted at the last minute?

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