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A tender pack
16 years after their first long player together, "Superwolf", Matt Sweeney and Will Oldham, both now in their early 50s, got together again to record another album called "Superwolves". The grandiose folk songwriter Oldham alias Bonnie ›Prince‹ Billy again leaves the composition to the equally recognized post-rock pioneer and versatile guitarist Sweeney, while he contributes the lyrics and the distinctive, fragile vocals.
For Oldham, the recordings represent a return to the old, familiar form after his latest album, "I Made a Place" (2019), released as Bonnie ›Prince‹ Billy, came along with a more mediocre, somewhat too catchy alternative country. As with »Superwolf«, Sweeney mainly restricts himself to his beautiful guitar riffs and chord progressions fingerpicking, so on plucking the strings, which - sometimes pulled, sometimes clean - Play around or even double Oldham's vocal melodies.
On »Superwolves« there are songs that, with their fleeting proximity and melodic fragility, make you forget any thought of established or even saturated independent veterans that one might suspect at work here.
Other instruments such as drums, bass and organ are only used in a few of the 14 pieces, most impressively in the festive, psychedelic “Hall of Death”, the second pre-release single and a typical example of Oldham's often morbid but tongue-in-cheek lyrics. The rock song in three-four time ends in the chorus: "Oh, I'm gonna walk down he hall of death again", sung together by Oldham and Sweeney, who contributes the harmony vocals. But the dark lines sound anything but oppressive, but downright edifying and comforting, while Sweeney, together with the ensemble of the Nigerien Tuareg musician Mdou Moctar, asserts influences from the West African desert blues. Moctar's fellow musician Ahmoudou Madassane also took part as co-songwriter.
Matt Sweeney is best known these days as a busy session and live guitarist, mostly for albums produced by the infamous Rick Rubin. Sweeney has appeared as a studio guitarist on albums by musicians as diverse as Adele, Johnny Cash, the Dixie Chicks, Neil Diamond and even Kid Rock. In addition, on the one hand he often participated in the hip-hop duo Run the Jewels (consisting of El-P and Killer Mike), and on the other hand in various projects of the Californian desert rock guru Josh Homme. As a live guitarist, Sweeney played in Iggy Pop's band, among others. However, his work as the front man of the pioneering US indie rock band Chavez in the mid-nineties and as a songwriter and guitarist together with Oldham is more important.
In the golden age of American indie rock between, say, 1987 (when Dinosaur Jr.'s album "You're Living All Over Me" was released) and 1997 ("The Lonesome Crowded West" by Modest Mouse) marked a late, final Highlight) Sweeney's band Chavez from New York City unfortunately simply went under, at least in terms of attention economy. Although there was not only a certain open-mindedness in the search for the next stubborn alternative band of the post-nirvana era in the music channels and radio stations that were still highly relevant in the nineties, but the screeching dissonances in Sweeney's guitar playing at the time and the rhythmic intricacy of the Band could seem quite bulky even for indie-savvy ears. Instead, with their two albums "Gone Glimmering" (1995) and "Ride the Fader" (1996), Chavez are considered to be the pioneers of math rock, which, however, always attracted a smaller audience. To mark the 25th anniversary of the release of the debut, the Matador record company released "Gone Glimmering" in an expanded form as a double LP in the autumn of last year.
Will Oldham, on the other hand, originally entered the alternative pop culture scene as a photographer; The iconic cover photo of the album »Spiderland« by the band Slint comes from him. The album, released in 1991, had a tremendous impact on post-rock. Like Oldham, who was born in 1970, the group came from Louisville, Kentucky, and were friends with him - Oldham took snapshots of the band while bathing in a quarry pond on the Indiana River. The black and white photo on the cover, on which only the heads of the cheerful musicians can be seen above the reflective surface of the water, is now often on lists or in online galleries as one of the best record covers, despite the initially very manageable success of the album and band photos.
The musicians of the group also formed (apart from Slint guitarist David Pajo) the backing band for Will Oldham's debut album "There Is No-One What Will Take Care of You," which was released in 1993 under its initial stage name Palace Brothers. With its vulnerable directness, both of the lyrics and the songwriting, and the simple instrumentation, Oldham's debut is an essential work of lo-fi folk or country. Songs like “I Tried to Stay Healthy for You” or the gloomy title track are just as imprinted with their slogan as Oldham's fragile voice, which is constantly threatening to slip away from him. In addition to Bill Callahan (Smog) and, in the following years, for example, Chan Marshall (Cat Power), Elliott Smith and Jason Molina (from the bands Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co.), Oldham founded the indie folk genre, which is about the At the turn of the millennium, numerous new singer / songwriters from North America and Great Britain turned to - one could even speak of a folk revival in retrospect.
During this time, Oldham released his most successful albums under the name Bonnie ›Prince‹ Billy, starting in 1999, starting with "I See a Darkness", the title track of which was covered by Johnny Cash a year later (on "American III: Solitary Man") ), again produced by Rick Rubin and with the second vocal part by Oldham himself.
Sweeney only worked on Cash's 2006 posthumously released album "American V: A Hundred Highways". Previously, he was alongside David Pajo, another notorious indie guitar crack, a member of Billy Corgan's short-lived Smashing Pumpkins follow-up band Zwan. At the same time he played in recordings and live concerts of his long-time companion Will Oldham.
Since Sweeney is a strong songwriter himself - but does not have an inimitable voice like Oldham - they finally turned the roles around and in 2005 recorded the highly acclaimed album "Superwolf". With “Bed Is for Sleeping” there was also a ballad that caused goosebumps, which is undoubtedly one of the not just a few timeless highlights in Oldham's work, but which, for once, he did not write himself.
Also on “Superwolves” there are songs, for example with “My Popsicle” or “My Body Is My Own”, which, in their fleeting approachability and melodic fragility, evoke every thought of established or even saturated independent veterans who one might suspect at work here to make you forget. Oldham sings about hiding his own feelings and ultimately being thrown back on himself: "I have learned to hide my feelings have learned to laugh alone hrough sun and sea my skin is peeling nd my body remains my own." less delicate guitar motifs. Sweeney has apparently saved his best musical ideas to work with Oldham again.
Matt Sweeney & Bonnie ›Prince‹ Billy: Superwolves (Drag City / Domino)
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