Oh no! I’ve seen a darkness… over a decade later than everybody else.

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – I See a Darkness – Album Review


Released in 1999 on Palace Records, I See a Darkness is Will Oldham’s first album using his stage name Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy.  It is often lauded, and reasonably so, as one of his best recordings to date.

Like anybody else, I don’t have time to listen to every artist you hear about.  Even the ones you hear about all the time.  For me, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, or Will Oldham as his parents found fit to call him, has topped that list of artists.  Almost every other day I heard this or that about how great he is.  In fact I heard it so much that, a few years ago, I went out and picked up The Brave and The Bold, a collaboration between Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and super-awesome instrumental band “Tortoise”.

The Brave and The Bold - Tortoise and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy


It’s a collection of underground covers with tracks honoring the likes of Devo and The Minutemen, not to mention a few headliners like Elton John and Bruce Springsteen.  Best version of “Thunder Road” you will ever hear.  The disc is fantastic, check it out if you have the chance.  Anyhow, this is not a review of that album, so on with it.

For one reason or another I never sought out more of Oldham’s work, that is until last week.  I couldn’t be kicking myself any harder.

Oldham’s voice is the most immediately noticeable thing about him.  So brittle you feel like you could shatter it with a feather, yet so powerful, not unlike Neil Young or the great David Byrne.  It would seem his songwriting is just as impressive.  This disc is full of gorgeous pieces, written mostly for guitar, piano, and drums.  Not surprisingly for its title, “I’ve Seen a Darkness” is almost entirely in minor key.  It’s a haunting record that points out the beauty in terrible things.  I’m a fan of that perspective, which is why I felt it necessary to review an album that came out 12 years ago.  Damn, such lost time.

Song titles like “Today I Was an Evil One” and “Death To Everyone” leave nothing to the imagination when it comes to the songs themselves.  Admittedly, this album is of a dark nature.  This is one of those grotesque paintings you see on gallery walls, you know, the ones that would be depressing if they weren’t so beautiful.  On “Another Day Full of Dread” Oldham sings, “Dread and fear should not be confused, by dread I’m inspired, by fear I’m amused.” it’s funny how much that makes sense.  On “Knockturne”, a song that, as far as I can tell, is about sexual discovery, he sings “Fire burned and blew out flowers, showing me its comely powers, still and all it would be hours before I would get burned.”  I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard anything that beautiful out of Katy Perry or someone equally as popular/useless.  If you think those lyrics are dark, there are more where that came from, also you should see the illustrations in the liner notes. — Yikes.  Have a listen.  It’s all good.

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