Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Conquer/You Have Been Seen 7”, 2017

Well hello to this little gem from Slowboy Records in Germany. One of those BPB 7” singles that pop up out of nowhere with a lovely sleeve, and some beautifully recorded songs with great sound. I recognise the name William Tyler (on guitar) from the back sleeve. I’m a big fan of his album Modern Country. After listening over to these two songs a few times I couldn’t help getting the impression that the lyrics sounded vaguely political, but I guess that’s a sign of the times when politics affects us all in such all encompassing ways.

Conquerthis has a big groove and a pounding heart, a kickass beat, rockin’ rhythm that pops its chorus like radio fodder circa 1994. Here we have an I persona acknowledging his status as a “conqueror.” He decries that he was once left behind, “on my own,” only to find everyone observing him “step… into a circle” where “they all say I don’t belong.” The concept of “power” is brought up in the song: “starved of power to hold onto,” but “I am a conqueror now and I always was.” The difference now is that “you want me to” be a conqueror, “you want me to / you want me to / you want me to,” and thus the role is justified. There seems to be a sense of fatalism embedded into his sense of entitlement, but the narrator also hints at the kind of psychological damage done in the past that might lead someone on a path towards despotism. We get a pretty cool solo lead guitar line, sort of primitive, standing out from the slick rhythmic section.

You Have Been Seen… and in true BPB fashion, the b-side seems to complement, or answer the a-side in some way. … a haunting vibe dominates the rhythm of this song, brooding along like a boat cutting over a dark sea. The mood suits the lyric which has the Bonnie narrator castigating the “you” of the title for “what you do,” who might be the I narrator of the a-side. What “you do” entails something shameful, related to lust for power and loss of love, something ugly, “your smack face in unashamed denial,” and the constant reminding, “You have been seen in what you do / In fact I’m the one who’s seen you,” implying conscience and guilt and disapproval. Hence the low brooding moody thump of the beat. It’s left open as to who the transgressor might be, whether a lover or a politician, or quite why he/she got this way. And all the “u” sounds coming out of Oldham’s voice box are high, airy and soft in that holier-than-thou way that the sanctimonious have over the wrong-headed. Steel guitar keeps the music lightly floating, unanchored to the beat. There’s no chorus, or instrumental break, a short song, fitting in under the three minute mark. Very nice.

This is easily one of the better 7″ singles in the past few years that’s come from a minor label with Will Oldham’s work on it. I’d love to hear a whole album of Oldham singing with these musicians. They make a nice swampy groove. They sound quite unique and Oldham’s voice sits on the music beautifully. Get a copy. Go HERE to see the full Bonnie catalogue at a glance.

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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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