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.