DAILY RECORD: Bonnie “Prince” Billy & the Cairo Gang, The Wonder Show Of The World

by | Apr 7, 2010 | MUSIC

Will Oldham, long-associated with dozens of artistic monikers, seems to have settled on both a name under which to record and a more focused approach to songwriting than much of his shambling past efforts. Oldham’s approach to songcraft on his most recent album is less reliant on the monochromatic gloom of such albums as I See A Darkness or the 70s-era Nashville-lite of Sings Greatest Palace Music (both great albums in their own right, each is a fairly single-minded representation of varied facets of the Oldham sound).

Will Oldham, long-associated with dozens of artistic monikers, seems to have settled on both a name under which to record and a more focused approach to songwriting than much of his shambling past efforts. Oldham’s approach to songcraft on his most recent album is less reliant on the monochromatic gloom of such albums as I See A Darkness or the 70s-era Nashville-lite of Sings Greatest Palace Music (both great albums in their own right, each is a fairly single-minded representation of varied facets of the Oldham sound).

The Wonder Show of the World possesses all the sadness of Oldham’s darker work, yet rarely dips into a minor key, instead focusing on the strained interactions to which humans subject themselves, with an eye for blunt detail recalling Raymond Carver. This bluntness, however, is mitigated somewhat by the overall gentleness of the album. Bathed in cathedrals of reverb, Oldham’s voice floats gently over sparse instrumentation, with guitars and occasional drums hanging back in the mix as if to avoid interrupting the sonic austerity. For a comparison not originating in Oldham’s back catalogue, The Wonder Show of the World sounds roughly like listening to Neil Young after drinking several bottles of cough syrup – at its worst, a rehash of the musical territory Oldham has been treading for two decades now, albeit with nearly every trace of a rough edge smoothed away, but at its best a reminder of Oldham’s ability to imbue even the most minimal arrangements with a maximum emotional punch and to cohesively combine seemingly disparate experiences: alienation and attraction, condemnation and repentance, arousal and terror. A lesser songwriter might trade in the dichotomies of such pairings, but Oldham’s songs present no division – there is no cliched thin line between love and hate presented here, only the amorphous gray area of every disconsolate and uncomfortable situation which shapes the human experience. – Graham Scala

R. Anthony Harris

R. Anthony Harris

I created Richmond, Virginia’s culture publication RVA Magazine and brought the first Richmond Mural Project to town. Designed the first brand for the Richmond’s First Fridays Artwalk and promoted the citywide “RVA” brand before the city adopted it as the official moniker. I threw a bunch of parties. Printed a lot of magazines. Met so many fantastic people in the process. Professional work: www.majormajor.me




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