The Sundowners, Goat Songs 7″, 1993

This Sundowners 7” is listed as the earliest item in most Will Oldham discographies, although there’s scant information about who plays on it and what role Oldham takes up. Rumours suggest this is a collaboration with Bill Callahan. Does it matter? Dragcity think not—their website refuses to say. You can hear Oldham singing along with someone else on the first track and that’s definitely his voice on the last song. The rest of the time the voice is run through a microphone so heavily distorted that it could be anyone. From what I can gather this was an installment in a three x 7” project whereby different Dragcity artists recorded under the name ‘The Sundowners.’ It’s very lo-fi, four-track recording type stuff, slightly obnoxious-noisy in a blaring perverted kind of way, although not without its charms.

Turkey Vulture… in which someone, who sounds like neither Oldham nor Callahan, sings about being a “Turkey Vulture on a big Appaloosa” to the accompaniment of an acoustic guitar. He will soar and sail and flap and fly, “cos life is a ball then you die.” A quick ref-check tells me that an Appaloosa is a North American breed of horse, of course, of course. Thus, on the first song of the first thing he released pre-Palace, Oldham, who I think is singing in unison with the main voice, sings of horses. So the turkey vulture (which is a real kind of vulture) flies to Wyoming, gets a hair cut from a woman there and this somehow leads to pants being pulled off in order to enjoy “the best lay that money can buy.” Got that? The out-of-sync harmonizing is pleasant, and the tune is catchy enough. It’s all of about 90 seconds long and kind of forgettable.

Tonight Will Be Fine… is a bizarre, horribly lo-fi cover of a Leonard Cohen song from the album Songs From A Room. The rhythm is created with what sounds like accidental blips of feedback. Once again, there’s two voices, but both are run through different kinds of devices and come out sounding warbly, watery and loud-feedback horrible. A few notes on a distorted electric guitar carry the tune, but all of the beauty and subtlety of Cohen’s version is completely lost. (Oldham would cover Cohen again on his Hope EP.) Toward the end of the song, the main voice starts yelling even louder and gets agro-intense. Still, having said all that, it’s got a pretty tune. At the end, both singers break down and start ‘crying’ which turns the lyric ironic: “But I know from your eyes / And I know from your smile / That tonight / Will be fine / Will be fine, will be fine, will be fine.” The song ends in a pool of tears.

Punk Rock… sounds like somebody’s idea of punk rock, which is to say, you’ve got a guitar in your hand, plugged in and turned up to ten, and you know how to knock those strings with your free hand. You’ve got a mike turned up to full and you know how to shout. So we get a chord being banged harshly, a super-distorted vocal, words indecipherable and a drum being bashed to sound like a crunchy rice cracker being smashed. It’s kind of annoying, and no matter how much you turn it down, the noise still seems to get inside your mental space and drown out all ability to think. Yeah, cool.

Goats… opens as a messy collage of horrible sound, as if somebody’s turning the dial on Mental Ward FM, before a wild Oldham vocal starts up, screeching, with a simple two chord strum, and a drum beat that sounds like someone bashing the sofa. Again, the lyrics are indecipherable. Once again, the recording volume has been set so high, that you can’t seem to turn it down. “It’s to goats that I turn to pass the time.” “I like my friends.” “Where do I go? Only my lover knows. Only my ego knows.” There’s a violin playing along, very screechily, which is perhaps why the singer (not sure who it is) feels he has to screech too.

Pozor… has Oldham (I think) singing in a foreign language; Wikitionary suggests Serbo-Croation and Czech, and translates the word ‘pozor’ as ‘attention’ in English. That violin is back, slow whiny notes, and guitar playing with a finger being thumbed slowly over the strings to create what sounds like a Spanish effect. Something else, probably a guitar full of distortion, starts up a kind of solo as if it’s competing with the violin this time. So, a slightly noisy number, but listenable, and after a few spins, even memorable.

Tallulah… sounds like the Oldham we’re more familiar with. It’s much more clearly Oldham’s voice this time, although the words are hidden behind a deliberately awful production, some guitar strums, drums and other droning noises, albeit with a slow pop beat. Absolutely no idea what he’s singing. I think I heard the word ‘salvation’ at one point; near the end, it’s “Tallulah” a few times, some male voices talking, the loud fuzz of a monitor, and cut. Besides fuzzy guitar-jack hum and the occasional thrash on electric guitar we have mandolin and bits of acoustic guitar which connects this song directly through to the first Palace album, There Is No One What Will Take Care Of You. I have no idea what it was about – Tallulah Bankhead, the U.S. actress noted for her uninhibited public persona, rich laugh, and harsh drawl? – I hope so.

Yep. So as a 7” playing at 33 speed, it’s pretty cool that they can fit six songs on this thing. Obviously sound quality was never an issue. You can easily discern the seeds of Oldham’s lyrical style and aesthetic in this record. And it’s actually not that bad. Probably made more sense in 1993 than it does now.

About Alan Bumstead Vinyl Reviews

Alan Bumstead is a music fanatic who humbly adds confusion to the world with a string of album reviews written during real-time-listening in a stream-of-consciousness style, then edited for spelling, punctuation, flow and grammar. Apart from an additional introductory paragraph, the writing is improvised in time with the music. There is no re-writing. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In his book Moving To Higher Ground Wynton Marsalis says, "Because jazz musicians improvise under the pressure of time, what's inside comes out pure. It's like being pressed to answer a question before you have a chance to get your lie straight. The first thought is usually the truth." I like to think that's what Alan Bumstead's all about.
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