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Matt Sweeney/Bonnie “Prince” Billy - Superwolves Music Album Reviews

Matt Sweeney/Bonnie “Prince” Billy - Superwolves Music Album Reviews
16 years after their original underground classic, Matt Sweeney and Will Oldham reunite for an album that plays like the continuation of a decades-long conversation. 

Afew years after he’d decided to start calling himself Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Will Oldham released a song called “A Wolf Among Wolves.” It’s about a person who doesn’t feel properly seen, and it’s exceptionally sad, even for the guy who wrote “I See a Darkness.” “Why can’t I be loved as what I am?” he sighs. “A wolf among wolves, and not as a man.” Wildness, ferocity, heart, all the things wolves tend to signify—the way he sings, it’s as if they’ve all been drained away by loneliness. In the years since, Oldham has made collaboration central to his work, partly, as he recently told GQ, in the hopes of “turning aspects of an innate introversion into something that resembles extroversion.” And while he’s had innumerable artistic successes, both on his own and with others, he never sounds more at home, more fully himself, than he does when writing and recording with guitarist Matt Sweeney. Not for nothing did they name their first album together Superwolf.

Now, 16 years after Oldham’s tender singing and Sweeney’s cable-knit guitars made the original an underground classic, they return with Superwolves, an album that is, just as its title suggests, both a continuation of Superwolf and something more. On the album, the duo let us in on a decades-long conversation, their respective instruments virtually finishing one another’s thoughts. Their bond is so deep, and their knowledge of one another is so profound, it’s essentially impossible to hear the boundary between them.

Oldham and Sweeney began work on the material that would eventually become Superwolves five years ago, using the same process they had before: Oldham wrote his lyrics as pure text, then sent them to Sweeney, who set the words to melody and wrote the music. Sweeney has a lover’s sense of Oldham’s tendencies as a singer, and he arguably knows how to write for Oldham’s strengths better than Oldham does. They move in tandem, Sweeney coaxing Oldham into following his line in the chorus of “Make Worry for Me,” the singer thinning out his voice and letting it break over the word “me” in a way that makes it sounds like a soft howl.

On the page, “Make Worry for Me” is a chest-thumping song about power and horror, the kind of thing you’d expect from a main character of a Nick Cave song. But Sweeney’s slinking guitar and sinuous verse melody complicate the mood. “You’ll be shaking, you’ll be trembling, and you’ll moan,” Oldham sings, and as with many Bonnie “Prince” Billy songs, it’s hard to say whether we’re supposed to be terrified or turned on.

Oldham has always had a light touch as a lyricist, but on Superwolves, figuring out the perspective can be like watching shadows thrown by a candle in a drafty room; you have a pretty good idea where this is coming from, but what you’re seeing keeps shifting. “Good to My Girls” is sung from the point of view of a madam reflecting on how an indifferent cosmos compels her to treat the women in her charge with care. But squint a bit and it could easily be about a new dad taking up his responsibilities, confronting his mortality, and shutting out the outside world. Oldham sympathetically depicts a woman whose life has crawled to a halt as she anticipates a deity who never arrives in “God is Waiting,” then sharply makes his own declaration of faith: “God can fuck herself, and it does—hardcore,” he assures us. The tone shift is jarringly sudden, undermining the woman’s dignity. In “My Blue Suit,” Oldham observes that his partner looks better in his clothes than he does, and how he’d like to be rolled up in her pocket for a while. It’s a nice little subversion, the man being possessed by the woman for a change. Or it may just be that Oldham thinks his wife looks hot in menswear. As lyrics, these songs resist simple interpretation, something Sweeney must have been keenly aware of; his settings, and Oldham’s performances, give Superwolves an all-too-human ambiguity.

In the course of making the album, Oldham became a husband and father, and in 2020 he lost his mother to Alzheimer’s. Throughout Superwolves, he sings with a mix of sadness and self-assurance, powered by the clarity and purpose that major life events can bring. “Shorty’s Ark” begins as a playful roundup of animals (“Killer whale, pocket wolf, rhinoceros, and hound”), but even as he takes pleasure in these simple joys, Oldham keeps an eye on what’s unfolding in the cosmos: “They’ll remind us of eternity, so they won’t have to die.” Even “My Popsicle,” an ode to his young daughter, feels tinged with death, as if Oldham were conscious of the likelihood that songs like this one will be what she turns to when he’s gone.

Sweeney is attuned to these subtle changes in the weather; his playing seems to predict storms before they register in the lyrics. Oldham sings from the beyond in “Resist the Urge,” his narrator consoling the mourning by insisting “You’re not without that much of me, I wasn’t just a body” while Sweeney plays a soft rag behind him. His guitar is gentle and sweet, and its kindness cuts against the hardness of grief.

Sweeney’s playing on Superwolves is so full it has the paradoxical effect of making his instrument seem to disappear, and his poetic phrasing often says more than a single guitar should be capable of. Even the ineffable Mdou Moctar takes his cues from him; when the Sahel star and his band step in to fill out “Hall of Death,” a rolling Tuareg rock song that nevertheless could’ve been on Oldham’s bluegrass-tinged live album Funtown Comedown, Sweeney’s milky, phased-out guitar sets the pace.

Sweeney is ultimately a session guitarist, albeit one of the highest-profile session guitarists of his generation; versatility is part of his job description. Whether he’s playing with Iggy Pop or Adele, Sweeney himself is always beside the point. Oldham, too, has always preferred to set up camp a few steps away from the culture at large, staying just close enough to make sure what he has to say can be heard. These are solitary ways of being—the rambler and the freelancer are both essentially alone, after all. It’s not difficult to understand what they see in one another.

Perhaps more than most of their peers, Sweeney and Oldham’s particular forms of solitude have been shaped by their ongoing proximity to others; the original Superwolf was the product of two loners delighting in how easily those solitudes intertwined. Superwolves’ success, then, is unimaginable without the 16-year hiatus between albums. Both artists needed to wander, to lose themselves, to become strangers again—even if only in their artistic partnership—so they could come back together and find that the rearranged pieces somehow still fit.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Matt Sweeney/Bonnie “Prince” Billy - Superwolves Music Album Reviews Matt Sweeney/Bonnie “Prince” Billy - Superwolves Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Tuesday, May 11, 2021 Rating: 5

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