They Built The Ships That Sank

Something grim this way comes, children....

Something grim this way comes, children. For the sneakiest of glimpses at the tracklisting of this here album – scrawled in neo-gothic typeface, natch – reveals a litany of shadowy ideals: ‘Death To Everyone’, ‘Today I Was An Evil One’, ‘Another Day Full Of Dread’… Even by his own bizarre standards Will Oldham is throwing us something of a curveball this time.

Lest we forget, this young man has already previously recorded as Palace Songs, Palace Music, Palace Brothers and quite possibly Crystal Palace. He’s played the Midwest hick, the lonesome pining singer and the awkward artiste. He’s even played at Hollywood acting, which if nothing else accounts for his ability to adopt and drop personas at the drop of a cowboy hat, of which Bonnie Prince Billy is merely the latest in a long, shambling line.

It is also with stunning predictability that ‘I See A Darkness’, far from wallowing in any Cradle Of Filth, should be a perversely cheery record: “By dread I’m inspired/By fear I’m amused”, quips the skinny chap in the sprawling ‘Another Day Full Of Dread’; “You know I have a love/A love for everyone”, he smirks during the temperamental title track. Little wonder, then, that his label should describe this album as ‘highly approachable’.

As ever with Oldham‘s muse, however, patience is a virtue. The music is stripped to shreds, sometimes right down to just an acoustic guitar and Oldham‘s old man yowl, at others tickled by little more brushed drums and hushed folky simplicity. Indeed, ‘Madeleine-Mary’ is about as vicious as it gets, and as the intro of said song sounds like The Police‘s ‘Roxanne’ in a fridge, go figure as to how wild this record really can be.

And so Bonnie Billy strides on, like Tom Waits with his art on his sleeve in ‘Knockturne’; deadpan and draining in ‘Death To Everyone’; mournfully defiant in ‘Nomadic Revelry (All Around)’; exquisite and succinct with ‘Raining In Darling’. Quite what commercial impact this delicate, intelligent record will have upon civilisation is open to conjecture, but if nothing else ‘I See A Darkness’ is perfect music for the bewitching hour.