After two collaborative 10” singles in 2011, the first with The Cairo Gang, the second with Matt Sweeney, this time we have one simply by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, though Emmett Kelly of The Cairo Gang plays guitar here, and, well, I can’t be bothered cross-referencing all the players, but they’re names I vaguely recognize from other Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy releases. As with the “Island Brothers” 10″, the proceeds from this also went to charity. saveourgulf.org and turtlehospital.org. Unfortunately, the songs here seem fairly run of the mill Oldham numbers, musically; might be nice live, but the nutty empty themes of waxing philosophical on what constitutes God seems a bit overloaded for a slight country number and a quiet acoustic soul blast.
There Is No God… the title belies, in a literal sense the contrastive conjunctions that pop up at the end of the first and third verse, stating “there is no god, but,” and then proceeds to fill us in on what constitutes the empty noun “God”, which for Oldham, first and foremost, is “that which surrounds the tongue” which might suggest a structuralist point of view—language surrounds the tongue and if the soul is made of language then language is God. However, God is also “that which sees love in the chest,” and “that which puts mouth on cock and vagina,” this last line something to prick up your ears and make you go “Wha..? Where did that come from?” only because it seems so incongruous. “That is best,” says Oldham, just in case you’re someone who hasn’t experienced the joys of oral sex. But if God is that which surrounds the tongue, then anything goes thereafter and the line seems as appropriate as any other. “There is no prayer” either according to Oldham, except one “sung in laughter” or one “lovingly uttered … through gritted teeth … hissed or muttered.” You see if God exists only in language then prayer to God is prayer to language, and what is a prayer made to the very medium of which prayer is constructed? Prayer is an instinct like laughter or bitterness. In any case, the last line contains the paradox that “there is tons, there is one, there is not any,” which sounds vaguely Zen and meaningless and nihilistically deconstructionist. Whatever it is, it probably doesn’t matter—what we have instead is the sound of a voice set to a jaunty melody, a bumpity bump rhythm; Oldham melody-singing the title line to a female chorus echoing behind him. There’s a distinct pop-comic vibe to the song, especially in the way Oldham sings his “no” – “There is No-o-o-oh,” and cures his voice to reach a falsetto line. Someone tinkles the ivories in bar-room jazz brawl style, tappity tap on a plastic lid, some drifting violin lines before the final build into a violin-infused hoedown. It’s all very melodic and fun. The music supports the lyrics, somehow, though it’s all over and forgotten very quickly.
God Is Love… how often does Oldham write a song about leaving? Let me count the ways… here, a quiet acoustic guitar number, with Oldham in pretty pensive voice. The narrator offers us the paradox that it’s only when he leaves a place and know he’s gone that he starts to feel “more at home.” Home for a vagrant is on the move, perhaps, but he feels vulnerable and afraid of running into the one he left behind: “I’m always scared of seeing you on the street.” Yet, “when we do [meet] I always seem to feel less alone.” Another paradoxical idea. He has in mind a lover, an ‘intended,’ but she’s far away and he hopes to be with her one day because then “I’ll never mourn.” Thus he’s in love, and as long he’s in love, God’s in him, God is “everything,” and “I am love.” Is this song meant to contrast against the A-side, “There Is No God”? Is God love or is God language? Which comes first, the feeling or the name of the feeling? Music is Oldham’s religion and the song and the singer are inseparable. The melody here is melancholy. A quiet drum and bass join. Female singer joins on the chorus, which is very pretty, but slight, and there’s a sort of build where the volume rises, and the voices chorus out in a multi-part harmony; that’s nice, but a little been done before and doesn’t quite have the impact it yearns for. A low warm harmony with a few plunked notes trill quietly to fade. Barely two minutes long.
Okay, so I’m glad to know I contributed a few charity dollars to a couple of causes somewhere on the other side of the world, even if I never bother to play this record again. Butterfly wings beating saves a turtle and a coastline somewhere and it’ll all come home to roost. Yay for me.