Palace Songs, The Mountain b/w (End Of) Travelling 7″, 1995

This is the first Palace single that seems to actually exist for the purpose of promoting an album. “The Mountain” comes from Viva Last Blues, (titled “The Mountain Low”) probably the best of the Palace albums in terms of gold strike rate. And this is one of its most memorable songs. The production on these songs is incredible. It’s a touch dry yet retains all the warmth of the equipment, and sounds crystal clear. No echo, distortion or fuzz—just a very pure sound.

The Mountain… is the perfect example of a song whose lyrics must be heard in order to comprehend them. You look at the lyrics on a piece of paper, and you find yourself involved in academic analysis. You hear them sung though, and no analysis seems necessary. It’s like when Oldham sings, “If I could fuck a mountain / Lord, I would fuck a mountain,” it’s intuitively obvious what he means. Intuitively. Sans language. Sans explanation. Trying to explain it only muddies the waters. But hear it in context among all the other lines of this song, and you realize that the words are only out of order because the narrator doesn’t quite know what he means either—he knows what he feels, but he doesn’t quite have the words to describe it, so he throws them all down, and if they come out wrong, they still come out right. That’s how it works. “The Mountain Low” sounds like a celebration of lust, sexual endeavour and free love. It could be that the music is as pellucid as a mountain lake, which creates the effect of limpidity in the (sung) lyric. Space between the instruments is perfectly poised, held, and the two guitar parts seem to complement each other beautifully. So, first the Oldham-singer would “fuck a mountain” if he could, “with a woman in the valley” then he’d “tower over peaks and in the sky,” and the woman would come “tumbling” to him “every night … with a different face and legs that will not quit.” Ultimately, based on the advice of a friend, he’d sell his belongings just to be there every morning “when she comes.” But see how I’ve muddied the waters with this attempt to fit the words into a coherent narrative? Hear the words sung among the rambling spindly rhythms and you hear a man expressing things that cannot be said, or said directly lest he be judged against some bogus bourgeois moral standard. And your soul-sense-subjective I self-persona hears all the words, intuitively unjumbles them into a feeling of understanding—nature, naturalness—Oldham mines nature for the natural heart of his sexual urges. Does he get satisfaction? Ultimately I think no, he doesn’t, because the song is all premised around that opening conditional clause, “If.” The whole song is presented as a possible way of being natural.

(End Of) Travelling… in some ways this song seems to continue the theme of the A-side. It starts with some delicate guitar and a crying pedal steel, into which Oldham’s earnest vocal inserts itself, winsome, clear and plaintive, sighing, resistant. The lyric also starts on the word “if,” although the rest of the narrative doesn’t depend on the outcome of that conditional: “If you are sleeping Millie, you are okay.” There’s a lot of closing eyes and sleep in this song. The narrator would prefer she stay asleep. Millie might be a lover, or she might be a one-night stand. She might be a prostitute, she might be a friend. But he seems to be asking for her permission to leave: “Let me go, o Millie o.” The short interlude showcases more of that pedal steel and reveals quite a jaunty little melody. In any case, the singer has warm feelings for her, is concerned that she stay warm, pronounced with long emotive assonance in a line like, “The chill reminds me soon that some other one will swoon,” which was a rhyme he’d used on the “West Palm Beach” single. He’ll let her sleep while he goes away, “to Mississippi” to meet “the last one,” who will be “hitching up her skirt in a wood ladder-back chair.” The whole rhythm section drops out as these lines are sung, which lends them a post-script kind of gravity. If this is about ‘traveling’ it would seem to suggest something about meeting and parting, which must take its toll on the one who moves on. All this talk of sleep, and closing eyes among “this town” and “new places” creates a feeling of reluctance to move on, yet, desire not to have to stay. A choir joins him briefly for the final “o millie o” and one final dying note. It’s short though, and doesn’t have a strong melody.

As noted above, “The Mountain” is the same version as the one on Viva Last Blues. “(End Of) Travelling” appears on the first compilation of Palace/Oldham odds and ends, Lost Blues And Other Songs released in 1997. Both songs also appear in the same form on a 12” EP called “The Mountain” along with the two tracks from the “West Palm Beach” single.

The next single, also from 1995, was “Gezundheit/Let The Wires Ring.

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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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