Despite the 2010 release date, both of these tracks were recorded in March/April 2009, live, at Landlocked Music, a record store in Bloomington, Indiana. While this is a standalone 7” record (hence warranting inclusion in this vinyl discography) it was only ever available with the full LP of various artists known by two titles, We Just Call It Roulette Vol III, and/or, It Happened Here, and can’t be bought separately. The full LP includes a mix of live and studio recordings by a number of obscure bands, most of whom I’d never heard of.
Beware Your Only Friend (live)… is the first track from Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s 2009 album, Beware – an oddball song about emotions like jealousy, insecurity and possessiveness, but with a weird sense of self-awareness behind it: “I want to be your only friend / Is that scary?” The singer doesn’t want others to “take some of your life” but would like the object of his affections to be “as a mother / Cheering me as I go” rather than like a daughter. It’s a strange relationship however, given that “we flail too much to let the other near.” The singer confesses his “quiet mind is not fit to lead” and offers up this song as a warning that he hides a wolf beneath his skin. The sound here is of fairly decent quality, a loud electric guitar plays a few notes before thumping drum and seesawing violin enter the picture, and Oldham offers us a vocal with different emphases than the studio version. The violin really enlivens the mix of live instruments, and there are moments where Oldham doesn’t sound unlike a late period Robert Smith. Occasionally the song devolves into a hollerin’ mess, then the music all stops while Oldham sings the verse about flailing too much, and the musicians enter once again, improvising, providing an eclectic flurry of notes, before Oldham starts singing John Mellencamp’s “Jack And Diane” for no apparent reason, before returning to the chorus, “I want to be your only friend,” with a suitably chaotic bent to his voice, some loud lah-lahing, crashing cymbals, freakout vibe, applause. Nice.
Imagination Blind (live)… comes from Farm, Dinosaur Jr’s 2009 album, this being a Barlow-penned song, but Barlow commits what for me is a cardinal sin of lyric writing, viz the first line: “I can feel it like a breath on skin.” That it. What is it? How are we supposed to know? I loathe such cheap ambiguity. From there the whole lyric unravels into a bunch of abstract nouns: season, ritual, reason, love. It seems that Barlow’s lost someone he loved, or someone left him. There’s a phrase about leaving people behind, repeated three times, so that should give some clue, but as a listener I’m the one who’s feeling imagination blind, because Barlow doesn’t really give us enough concrete details to build a picture with. Unlike the studio version on Farm, Barlow plays his song solo on acoustic guitar in his lovely lo-fi way. Am a huge fan of his early home recordings, and I could really get behind this song performed in this way, and I suppose a few more listens and the lyrics would probably start to make more sense. Barlow sings this well, with more oomph that I normally associate with his style, and more femininity in his voice than I’ve ever heard before, more high notes. He sings this with some honest passion, though weirdly, despite owning and playing Farm plenty of times, I can’t say I recognise the melody.
Oldham was also included on another compilation released in 2010 called Be Yourself: A Tribute to Graham Nash’s Songs For Beginners, in which his song appeared on a separate 7” just as it does here. That was a split 7” with Robin Pecknold of the Fleet Foxes with Oldham performing a Graham Nash-penned song in Spanish, “Simple Man.”