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Boomkat Product Review:
Back in stock. After the all-but unpromoted Lie Down In The Light (which arrived virtually unannounced early last summer) Will Oldham returns with a brand new album, and first impressions indicate that it's a rather special one. Domino seem to have embarked on a full PR offensive with this one, perhaps realising that they've got something rather special on their hands. Oldham is surrounded by a cast of additional players (Chicago Underground player Rob Mazurek's in there) and sounds as though he's in playful mode from the very start. 'Beware Your Only Friend' introduces the album with the line "I want to be your only friend" swiftly followed by a choir bellowing out the question "Is that scary?" thus setting the tone for an album that toys with country conventions by casting occasionally absurd, yet (more often than not) resonant, meaningful lyrics against inscrutable Nashville ensemble sounds. On 'Heart's Arms' Oldham sets himself amongst an ocean of sound lamenting his empty email inbox. "I open this awful machine to nothing/Where once your intimacies came pounding", he pines. For all his renowned strangeness and evasiveness, Oldham effortlessly channels emotional turmoil. This is marked out by a wistful appetite for romance that creeps into the record during songs like 'I Don't Belong To Anyone' with its lonely lyrical core and contrapuntally busy horns-and-backing-singers arrangement. Similarly, the offsetting nonchalance of the musical component in 'You Don't Love Me' barely reflects the plainly conveyed, heartbreaking lyrical content: "You say my kissing rates a six/On a scale of one-to-ten/And you wouldn't pass the time with me/Except you've tired of all your friends/You don't love me/That's alright/'Cause you cling to me/All through the night". The songs on Beware fit Bonnie 'Prince' Billy just right at this point in his career. They're riddled with eccentricities, big band bluster and heart-felt frailty, capturing a sound that's on a similar scale to The Letting Go without embracing that record's heavily sound-sculpted cleanliness and precision. Excellent.