Rian Murphy & Will Oldham, All Most Heaven EP, 2000

The title itself is language play – shoving ‘all’ in front of ‘most’ is generally considered bad grammar – but that’s nothing once you hear the lyrics. Oldham seems to invent his own language for this collection of songs, which is a bastardization of English, and yet which sits happily side by side, nay, in among, lines of English. Perhaps there’s some secret scheme behind it, but probably there’s not, and if there is, it’s probably contrived by molecules of THC and psilocybin. I have another theory, a good one, I really like. It’s this: when you hear a popular song on the radio say, with a chorus that you want to sing along with, say, but you can’t quite make out all the words, what do you do? You make ‘em up. You sing the syllables of what you think you’re hearing. Well, with All Most Heaven you don’t need to; Oldham’s already done it for you, which I think is a cool concept for a lyric – songs full of deliberate mondegreens. With that in mind, Oldham sings his lines with all the conviction of one who knows what he’s on about, and that translates because the melodies are simply gorgeous. Oldham’s in thin voice mode here, thin bendy wire, sharp and high and melodic, catching on the tune and boldly trumpeting it out with all his inhibitions laid to rest. The music is all string quartets and orchestral thumps, violins, tubas, and the first track even sounds a bit like the George Martin Beatles. After the darkness of Oldham’s 1999 long player, this is all light (see the back sleeve), a joyful little record, two guys having fun by the sounds of it, but the songs are real, fully conceived and orchestrated things; this ain’t some stoned farting around. There’s a range of emotions, some sad, some exquisite, all carried in Oldham’s ever expanding range. There are quite a few names on the back sleeve of those who’ve contributed music and voice.

Fall Again… Bill Callahan sings the first two lines, then continues to sing backing behind Oldham for much of the song. Even the lines that do make sense read like cut’n’paste phrases. The song booms into action with loud thumping piano chords which soon quiet down for Callahan’s vocal which goes, “Look all the press (all depressed?) / Face in the ground / Got undressed / Went around town / Takin’ the clothes / Place in the grass / What do you know / Coming on fast.” Oldham quickly takes off lead singing duties and takes the bouncing, big-tuned thing into its glorious chorus: “All day so / They boge in do bo / When you call the name / Of they sing or they / I bawl a bahl / Hope they leave / And fall again.” And it’s so catchy that you find yourself immediately singing along, with no idea what you’re singing, and yet, don’t we do that all the time? Brilliant. Here’s some more of what these douchebags are smoking: “Da da d / Hail the ga / Just ends a love / Falls and then rise / Tops off to you / Gave it again / That’s what to do / Saving a friend.” And all the way, that piano melody, xylophone, stabs of electric guitar, warbling organ, then a lovely instrumental break with brass, big bass drums, cello rhythm, and wow. The chorus returns and of course, you have to sing along. “When you call the name / Of they sing or they / I bawl a bahl” etc. This is great stuff. Callahan would do something similar with his lyrics on “Eid Ma Clack Shaw” from Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle.

Fall And Raise It On… once again, we have a very pretty melody with what sounds like a cello-grounded string quartet providing the music, though my only gripe is that the song feels a little too slow. Here Oldham sings “I went down to the ba hoo (bayou?) / Where the wed water flow / And as the sill was glad / The fellow buddled uh / Way de fade uh guh.” The music sort of reduces a little while Oldham sings, and when he gets to that last line quoted above, everything seems to have slowed right down to quite a melancholy mood. From there, bits of tuba, trumpet, strings, harp maybe, tubular bloody bells, woodwind, all come together in some kind of dreamy woodland fantasia.  The lyrics only disintegrate further: “Sell me a peach o’ the ba ho / Ate for the sake of all / And wasted for the love of / Olive an a’ / Waig an as’ a tode / Waig an as’ a tode o.” There’s even an ethereal angelic choir singing behind him in the last verse, and while this song doesn’t have a chorus or quite the majestic melodicism of “Fall Again,” it still sounds like magic.

Song Of Most… pitter patter toms, strings in contrapuntal see-saw to a heavy cello and bass drum rhythm. Once again, the song starts out making clean sense before quickly devolving into weirdness; “I knew what I wanted to do / When I was only three years old (okay, so far so good) / But then they came for the flame… (still okay, we can interpret ‘flame’ as a symbol for, say, innocence) / For all the sables o ye doe-hoe / And I found one brace of gold (starting to lose it) / Where I had laid it all the same / But when ye never knew / What fun would do / Say hey on the way (gobbledegook).” I wonder why this is called “Song Of Most”? The words continue to get more and more nonsensical so that by song end, the lines become “for mind what had it duh / Nye was fed and led upon / A coaly lane of all as hauled / To lay it for the bay hoo.” Yup. And then for the lovely uplifting chorus, soft strings: “They said that we would have this solved / The bay’s a doll / And we was all a cable’d on.” More female harmonizing. The feel is some kind of Elizabethan garden party, or I don’t know, feast, festivities, celebration; from the tom-tom drums and whatever instrument makes that squelching sound. This is another hugely melodic number.

Song Of All… is a song about Sadie who “deals a lie,” and a guy who “got a legging” and “he was a kneeful / Was an eye.” Now, the thing about Sadie, right, is this: “Bolly bolly bolly bolly boldly by.” It all becomes obvious though by the fourth verse: “Ess for the beda / Basted ada deedle eye / For the way to be hated / Is abated audobye / Bolly bolly bolly bolly / Bolly by.” Got that? The music is more haunted, distant loud bass drums, but very little music, and only Oldham’s voice wafting through the rafters, a large open space, a few piano notes, distant woodwind; this all creates a dramatic lovely effect, making the sound sort of sad and lonesome, before the verse about how “he was a kneeful,” when everything briefly crescendos. It’s difficult to desribe the effect. Some kind of harp-like arpeggio starts up, the cello gets a little louder, building an ominous tone, like remote thunder. Towards the end the song gets a little more dramatic, a great drum sound, sheeny keyboard sound, aaah harmonies, and yeah, I’m a bit lost for words. That’s the effect of this music – it renders language ridiculous.

Okay, so I admit defeat. Maybe that’s the purpose of this music: “Let’s make something that’ll really stump the critics.” Suffice to say, unless you have a real aversion to traditional classical type instrumentation, you can’t fail to be moved by this amazing music. It’s fun, it’s not all fun though. It’s emotional too. It even ends quite sadly. These tracks are exclusive to this release.

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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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3 Responses to Rian Murphy & Will Oldham, All Most Heaven EP, 2000

  1. Dr. Eusebia Schreck says:

    Thanks for this cool article. “All Most Heaven” is my secret Oldham favourite, nice to see it pop up again here!

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