Bonnie “Prince” Billy | The Letting Go (Drag City)

The best albums are always the ones that have to earn your liking them, and not the ones you like immediately.


   Will Oldham is crazily prolific, to the point that even his most hardcore fans have trouble keeping track of all of his albums, let alone his vinyl-only releases, singles, imports, etc. In the past three years, he has released a collaboration of covers with Tortoise, a repellant album of covers of his own songs, a collaboration with Matt Sweeney, and a live album-and that's only his easily obtainable LPs. All good Oldham fans know his best songs are always tucked away on the impossible-to-track-down discs (good luck finding the disc Pebbles & Ripples, which contains his best song of the past few years, "Everybody's Talking About the Babylon System";  it was tour-only, and the tour was short). He's never gotten a terrific amount of a push from his various labels, and his last few records weren't any different. But the tone has changed with his latest LP, The Letting Go. Drag City released an advance single of the album's "Cursed Sleep" (replete with B-sides to drive the OCD Oldham fan nuts) and even commissioned a commercial to advertise the album. Seems that they have a little more faith in this one than usual.

Upon my first listen, I wasn't sure The Letting Go deserved it; it just sounded like more of the same as what Oldham has been up to since he took up the Bonnie "Prince" Billy moniker. His voice sounds too trained now for those of us who jumped on the bandwagon back in his Palace days. The opening track, "Love Comes to Me," is way too new-millennium Oldham, with its saccharine tone and dippy chorus, "It's your hand your heart your lip/That is all." However, the quality of the CD as a whole starts to emerge about five or so listens in; where "Love Comes to Me" still feels like a should've-been-buried track from Oldham's already mediocre Master & Everyone days, "The Seedling" feels like a long-lost treasure from his I See a Darkness period. "Cursed Sleep" is also good, though I'm not sure I would've picked it as the song to wager the album as a whole's success on.

It's getting easier and easier to make flip decisions about the quality of Oldham's albums as he releases them; sometimes I feel as if the man himself is inviting it, seeing as how he seems to have some goofy conceit powering each one these days. What a shame this turns out to be, as the best albums are always the ones that have to earn your liking them, and not the ones you like immediately. Besides, if you're too lazy to make the time commitment required to fully appreciate The Letting Go, it's still worth buying the album, if only so you can hang the hilarious picture of Oldham from the liner notes on your wall.

RIYL: Late period Johnny Cash, Devendra Banhart

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