Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
I See a Darkness


3.5
great

Review

by Alex Robertson STAFF
January 17th, 2010 | 33 replies


Release Date: 1999 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Strummity, strummity, strummity, feelings, feelings, feelings.

Prozac, stat!: on his sixth release (the first under his new "Bonnie 'Prince' Billy" moniker), Will Oldham's gotten himself into a bit of a bleak spot; whether it be a comrade seemingly blind to Oldham's deepest secrets ("I See a Darkness"), or his little dwelling safe from the rest of the world ("A Minor Place"), or, why not, a color ("Black"), the alt-folk artist has got his sights set on something, and he sure is hell isn't happy about it. In fact, he's being quite the Debbie Downer.

Which isn't to say I See a Darkness is the kind of relentlessly harrowing pain-without-proprietary release that many underground artists suddenly realized acted as both a primal-scream therapy for the creator and an easy emotional attachment for the consumer. But don't be surprised if you suddenly have an urge to dress like Johnny Cash. Most of I See a Darkness largely works because it rings true, each crackle and hiccup of Oldham's worn voice giving a little authenticity to each anguished line, even if Oldham occasionally throws out a few strained inquiries or puzzling aphorisms.

Oldham's music also sends the words home. As a whole, I See a Darkness is sparse and imprecise, placing a few piano lines, an electric guitar riff, and some unobtrusive drumbeats slightly amiss each other, giving the whole album a disjointed feel (especially when Oldham overdubs his own nervous voice in this same manner). At first, it presents an unpolished charm, but, upon further inspection, it's a sort of incongruity with the album's purpose; as if Oldham is getting lazy about his own deep-and-dark feelings. Furthermore, Oldham lays his own supposed bleak outlook on a little too thick at times, especially when the tracklist presents the one-two punch of "Another Day Full of Dread" and "Death to Everyone". Perhaps a psychiatrist would help?

However, Oldham also has a knack for songwriting that feels uncommonly timeless, and I See a Darkness exemplifies this in full: quickie "Knockturne" comes off as intriguingly hypnotic, despite (or perhaps because of) its deceptively simple piano line. "Raining in Darling", which closes off the album, shows the artist doing his best Springsteen impression, and it's a huge success, being desperate, hopeful and lovely all in the same breath.

When Oldham steers away from his own formula of sadness and strumming, however, is when the album works best. "Madeleine-Mary" is a surprising rocker that acts as a refreshing change of pace for the album, serving as a little cool-off before the album is back to its old tricks. Perhaps the biggest curiosity, however, lies within "Nomadic Revery (All Around)", which, though seeming at first like yet another musing on the horrific trials of life, is actually about ***ing. It's no "Walking on Sunshine", but hey, it's a start.



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user ratings (167)
Chart.
4.1
excellent
other reviews of this album
Daniel Smith (5)
I See A Darkness - with its bleak instrumentation and memorably morose lyrics - is a nearly flawless...

Scott Herren (4.5)
...


Comments:Add a Comment 
robertsona
Staff Reviewer
January 17th 2010


15035 Comments


might be a 4

thebhoy
Emeritus
January 17th 2010


4459 Comments


this is better then a 3.5

Douglas
January 17th 2010


9103 Comments


Good review, this is a swell album. Stop over using comas though.

Kiran
Emeritus
January 18th 2010


6001 Comments


The Letting Go is my favourite of his but I haven't heard this yet

Yotimi
January 18th 2010


6493 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Pretty good review, although I think album is much better than a 3.5. "I See A Darkness" is one of my favorite songs of all time also.

Comatorium.
January 18th 2010


4115 Comments


This review is a pain to read, and the intro paragraph is a perfect example of why. There isn't a single period in the whole thing... try breaking it up a bit. Though you did make this sound rather intriguing.

Digging: Silverstein - This is How the Wind Shifts: Addendum

Meatplow
January 18th 2010


5524 Comments


This man has a beautiful voice, i'm only familiar with him through Current 93's Black Ships Ate The Sky though.

bab808
December 9th 2010


456 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

the song i see a darkness is perfect

Yotimi
December 10th 2010


6493 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yes it is.

foreverendeared
December 29th 2010


14678 Comments


I have to post this here, Will Oldham cracks me up in this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2bCc0EGP6U

Goatlord
August 1st 2011


405 Comments


This record has managed to get through some tough times and for that I am grateful.

jefflebowski
September 3rd 2011


8242 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

the review makes this sound way higher than a 3.5. Well written though

Digging: Brian Eno and Karl Hyde - High Life

Lucid
Contributing Reviewer
December 5th 2012


7026 Comments


title track is one of the best songs ever written

Digging: Perfume Genius - Too Bright

zakalwe
May 1st 2013


8075 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

One of the greatest an all time classic.

Funeralopolis
June 12th 2013


11340 Comments


how the hell does this have such few comments?

Digging: No Joy - Wait to Pleasure

InfamousGrouse
January 4th 2014


3497 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

many times we've been out drinking;

Digging: Harry Nilsson - Nilsson Schmilsson

zakalwe
January 4th 2014


8075 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

A travesty of the highest order that this isn't looked at around here. I'll say it again this is one of the greatest.

InfamousGrouse
January 4th 2014


3497 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

does it really surprise you, dude?

A Lot Like Birds >

zakalwe
January 4th 2014


8075 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Weep

InfamousGrouse
January 4th 2014


3497 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

need to put this on heavier rotation but i don't think i could 5 it



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