Rated | Alphabetical
| Highest Rated 2006
In the Wild
Bonnie "Prince" Billy & Matt Sweeney: Superwolf
Drag City, 2005
Fortunately, Matt Sweeney was up for a challenge. Will Oldham presented
the ex-Chavez frontman and former
with lyrics intended for Oldham's next Bonnie "Prince" Billy project, and
charged him with creating music to accompany the words. Superwolf is
the culmination of Oldham's challenge, a moody folk-rock collection that
deals with everything from adultery to anthropomorphism. And, yes, this
being a Will Oldham record, there's a certain knee-jerk inscrutability upon
initial spins. But dedicated listeners are in for a treat, as is the case
with just about everything the respected (if not commercially accessible)
Palace Music mastermind has recorded. Give credit to Sweeney, then, for
managing to meld seamlessly with Oldham's often spare, starkly countrified
musical vision while infusing it with distinctive chord changes and dramatic
tempo shifts. Superwolf just might convince those who've had trouble
getting over the Bonnie "Prince" hump the encouragement to stick around and
appreciate the quiet, intense majesty of Oldham's unordinary vocabulary.
It's a smart move to kick things off with "My Home is the Sea," one of the
album's strongest, most melodically dramatic songs. Oldham's opening
declaration that "I have often said that I would like to be dead in a
shark's mouth" establishes a thematic link with not only the natural world's
food-chain pecking order, but also a deeper association with the animal
kingdom in general. Throughout the album, Oldham dreams of superwolves (the
stirring, excellent "Lift Us Up") and encounters panther girls ("Rudy
Foolish," featuring some lovely harmonizing with Sue Schofield), submits to
being a "beast for thee" (on the same tender ballad), and ponders "singing
as a seagull should" (the lovely, ruminative "Only Someone Running").
Oldham's anthropomorphisms aren't as obviously drawn as those in, say,
Richard Adams' acclaimed imperiled-rabbits novel Watership Down.
Rather, Oldman draws allusions between the power play between men and women
and the less psychologically fussy dominance roles played out in the wild.
On "Blood Embrace," a nearly eight-minute, slow-boiling epic about a man
coming to terms with losing his companion to another, Oldham effectively
articulates the near murderous, bestial rage felt by someone losing
possession of a lover. And it's that exploration of the irreconcilable
desire to seize hold of someone physically -- yet being unable to ever
wholly tame the whims of another's heart -- that vaults Superwolf to
the upper tier of Oldham's numberless releases.
That Sweeney's arrangements equal Oldham's lyrics speaks volumes about the
pair's creative synergy. Clearly, Sweeney's range on the multi-part "My Home
is the Sea," and the lightning-crack flair exhibited on the arresting "Goat
and Ram," are attention-grabbing and impressive. It's where Sweeney
underplays things, as on the wistful "What Are You?," that the guitarist
exhibits a shading and temperance that reveals just how elegantly his music
is intertwined with Oldham's often cryptic expressions.
Superwolf is the sound of two artists on the same creative page, both
bringing unique abilities to the table and elevating the other's talents as
a result. In that respect, the avid fan of either can only hope that this
isn't some one-off project, but rather the beginning of a long and fruitful
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