Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy & Matt Sweeney, Must Be Blind b/w Life In Muscle 10”, 2011

must be blind frontThe second 10″ single for 2011, this time a return to working with Matt Sweeney of the Superwolf project, though while Sweeney’s guitar sound is recognisable, these songs seem more traditionally structured than those earlier efforts. Both are short at around the three minute mark, and neither are accessible in any immediate kind of way; they’re both downer songs of the highest order, although neither reach the heights of what the pair had achieved together in 2005, which is a little disappointing.

must be blind labelMust Be Blind… is one weird song to choose for a single release—weird as in what’s it about? It’s not one for giving away any secrets, so let’s pick it apart piece by piece. The title and main chorus, “I must be blind,” gets repeated three or more times in a row each time. The singer can’t see something right in front of him, can’t see something blindingly obvious. The first time, he mentions having done away with “my second mind,” alluding to the part of his mind that ought to have seen or known or understood. Abstract nouns: love, mistrust, and a she—“my guide.” A theme that pops up here and there lyrically and with the male/female duetting on so many Bonnie songs/albums—the split gender/gender duality. He opens the song singing about a “cracking.” Either the narrator’s lamenting having been blind to someone’s love, or his male half has been blind to his female half: “In all the love for deep mistrust / In all the hiding formed this crust / Burned away my guide / She’s been run through so many times.” He rhymes ‘cracking’ with ‘lacking’. Something’s lacking, the narrator later asking, “How could I crush it? / How could I miss it?” He wants “it” kissed, “just a little bit,” as if this could heal the crack. Are we talking Freud here? Penises, vaginas, castration? The self at the point of the mirror stage, the self forming, a man coming into his Oedipal complex? In the final verse he admits having never been the kind who could “bear the mantle of the love.” Thus it’s a solemn, sad song of regret—some kind of realization come too late, that something inside of him has been missing for too long, the ability to have fully been one with oneself; self-consciousness, the duality of mind and body; the lost half. I’m really reading between the lines here, because we’re only given disparate glimpses, and even then, they’re rather abstract images. The pace is slow, a deadened thump of a beat, the guitar just distorted in that Matt Sweeney style, and funnily enough, little trills of what sounds like Hawaiian guitar on the chorus. And at the end of the last “blind” we get a word or sound in a language I’m unfamiliar with. The melody is quite straightforward, and because the lyrics are so disconnected, listening to it doesn’t really take you anywhere special. Several soft ethereal backing voices harmonize on the chorus. It’s pretty, and delicate, a little sad and worn, but really, quite mundane when all’s said and done, and you’re left wondering why they trod such a plodding pop structure.

must be blind labelLife In Muscle… is the better track here. It opens with quiet acoustic guitar playing a delicate subtle melody, and Oldham’s voice in soft dulcet tones, a dim dusky feeling. The theme is death this time—there’s plenty of images to suggest it: “outstretched hand,” “lifeless wrist,” “go back into the earth,” “cracked lips” and “decaying hips,” “lifeless silent,” “dead and loved,” “death-advantaged,” and the final line repeated thrice: “knowing you have eternity before you.” Okay, so there’s more than enough to give the death theme away, but what of it? Seems to be a dust to dust, ashes to ashes kind of thing, a (non) celebration of a short life, a “life in muscle caked with lard.” But the song reaches a midway crescendo where the emotion all builds up to a point that has Oldham shouting “May as well go fucking there / Make a new child, dead and loved,” while the sudden surrounding chaos of the music drowns out the voice amid a neat line like “Stars her blemish, wheat her hair,” and we lose the climax of the song in the eye of a brief storm. One can’t help thinking of a miscarriage. Those hips that were “decaying” were also described as “childbearing.” The last verse opens with the line, “And it will stop hurting,” and we get the line, “Ain’t it grand, love,” as though he’s singing to his partner. So there you go. The ultra-minimalist approach, the art of suggestion, and pain buried in the loins of the song. The chorus is quite magnificent, a loud and sudden build into a very brief moment of beauty and clarity: “It was good it was hard / Life in muscle caked with lard / Don’t care how good or what worth / Holding hand and help it go / Back into the earth.”And in the last verse we really do get a glimpse of a Palace-era Will Oldham with the fragile warble-voice thing: “Ain’t it grand, lo-o_o-ve.” Oh, and the ending, when the hand caresses you, you deny it because you know you have eternity before you; all of this a desperate yelped sickly kind of sorrow. A grim and crimson song. But short, cut so short like the life at the centre of the song.

must be blind backThese two songs aren’t as awesome as those on the “Island Brothers” record were, and they could have fitted quite easily onto a 7″. It’s not exactly the kind of record you’re going to put on at a party, either. Perhaps there were other songs written by the pair but they got shelved along the way and all that came out of the session were these two. They’re interesting, and as noted above, the B-side is the one worth hearing, but it’s far from essential. The third 10″ single was released around the same time, “There Is No God.

Lyric sheet insert

Lyric sheet insert

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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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