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Cover Art Bonnie "Prince" Billy
I See a Darkness
[Palace]
Rating: 10.0

Music is a wounded, corrupted, vile, half- breed mutt that begs for attention as it scratches at your door. You let it in and give in a warm place to reside. It licks its paws and whimpers for store- bought snacks. You tolerate the fact that it shits all over your lovely Persian rugs because it seems so cute and vulnerable. It becomes your center for a while. Time passes, and it learns no new tricks. You begin to grow apart. It shuffles about in the background while you microwave your popcorn, and while you're vaguely aware of it, it seems less important to you.

I'm firmly convinced that Bonnie "Prince" Billy's new record, I See a Darkness is not music. It doesn't register in the familiar ways of a pop record (although conceptually speaking, it is one). You can't dance to it, and... it makes you feel small. A friend of mine said this: "I was listening to it the other day and someone called. I had to turn my stereo off. I couldn't just have it on in the background. It felt wrong."

Bonnie "Prince" Billy is the current moniker of Will Oldham, also known as Will Oldham, Palace, Palace Songs, Palace Music, and Palace Brothers. Throughout his musical life, Oldham has been churning out tomes of dark, literary dirges with help from a veritable who's- who of Important Rock and Rollers (members of Slint, the High Llammas, and Gastr Del Sol). If, previous to I See a Darkness, Oldham had simply quit, he would have carved out his share of the American Gothic with his tales of death, religious reckoning, incest, and wayward horses in the cold stone of history. Even his substandard records have always had their glory moments.

But here he is again, with a new name, and perhaps his consummate offering. The familiar touches are all here-- dense, ominous words and subtle flourishes of guitar, drums, bass, organs, and piano. And best of all, Oldham is perhaps the greatest of human singers, in that he sounds like a real person. There's no studio gimmickry to hide the quiver in his mostly bang-on tone.

I See a Darkness is warmer than the title would have you think, and darker than the warmth of the stellar musical backdrop-- the songs feel both familiar and eerily strange. Virtually every note feels like a universe. It's the type of record that demands solitary reverence. No, this isn't music. It can't be. It's something else...

-Samir Khan