Bonnie 'Prince' Billy – I Made a Place
Bonnie 'Prince' Billy returns with his first album of original material in eight years, and it's a typically idiosyncratic, at-times aggressively upbeat, collection
Will Oldham is a famously prolific worker; over the course of this decade he's released a number of collaborative and covers albums, self-released material under his own name and even starred in a film (A Ghost Story) with Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. But I Made a Place is the first collection of Bonnie originals in eight years, comfortably the longest gap in his discography. This is ostensibly down to Oldham's belief that the musical landscape has been irrevocably altered – in everything from conception to recording to consumption – and his hope that he could wait “for the storm to pass” before returning to his quaint, bucolic niche.
He began recording this album without a real view of the finished product, and it's this loose, uncertain and fatalist attitude that seems to have led to Oldham creating some of his most aggressively upbeat and polished material yet. From the opening jangle of New Memory Box, Oldham is in rollicking good form, bringing together banjos and horn sections, lilting duets and trite platitudes to beat back the onslaught of negativity pervading the current state of geopolitics.
However, the contrived positivity and dazzling overproduction starts to wear a little thin by the midpoint (around the time Squid Eye suggests: 'If you're a boy, dance like a girl'). It all sounds nice enough, but it's lacking the biting insight of the best Oldham records. Luckily, the second half is a lot more contemplative, with a fascinating final triptych of moody cuts, reveling in an air of opaque imagery (less so on the final track) and campfire rumination.
The soft, lulling arrangements couch Oldham's thoughtful lyricism, though there's still plenty of time for the brass and woodwind flourishes that appear frequently across the album. There's an outlier in Mama Mama – a straight-up twinkle-eyed, mid-70s Willie Nelson honky-tonker – but when the bombast of the first side dies away, it's those later moments that stick.
Such a long break in the canonical calendar has perhaps made for an album that has been tinkered with too much, feeling overstuffed at points. That said, it's still a fine record, with plenty of Oldham idiosyncrasies along with the bluster. If the album suffers for being a little less austere than usual, who's going to begrudge the Bonnie Prince a little optimism?
Listen to: The Glow Pt. 3, New Memory Box, Dream Awhile