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Bonnie “Prince” Billy and the Cairo Gang – The Wonder Show of the World

on April 05, 2010, 8:00am
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I love to sleep more than anything in the world. There is nothing else I would rather do. Every night, I get about nine to 12 hours of this fantastic sensation, which I’m told is pretty healthy. This might be why I am in no way concerned about death, since it’s just the longest nap of your life. Part of the reason that I am able to sleep so easily is due to the musicians whose existence is based upon creating the most relaxing music ever (Miles Davis, Sigur Ros, anybody classical). Bonnie “Prince” Billy and his buddies the Cairo Gang have certainly put together an album that will now be in rotation within my sleepy-time catalog. The only thing is, though, I don’t think they’re trying to lull me to sleep; I think they’re trying to lull me to death.

Let me tell you what’s not on the sixteenth album entitled The Wonder Show of the World, by the Americana folk genius Will Oldham. There are no songs that will make you want to jump up and cause chaos. There is no distortion, at least any loud distortion (“Teach Me to Bear You” features a crunchy solo). There are hardly any percussion instruments of any kind. The opener and the three middle songs feature some sort of rhythm section, but I don’t know if I can necessarily count one of them because the only instrument providing a beat is an egg shaker. There are no songs that are overtly upbeat in the same sense that Oracular Spectacular was upbeat. And there is nothing that gets above the mid-tempo range of speed. What are on this album are simplistic, yet poetic and beautiful songs full of raw emotion from one of the best singers in modern folk.

“Troublesome Houses” opens up the album, and this might be the happiest set of chords you get on the record. The opening is almost reminiscent of Nick Drake, but the lyrics seem much darker. “I once loved a girl/But she couldn’t take/That I visited troublesome houses,” he explains, “She said when I got home/To leave her alone/She could taste/Trouble on my mouth.” Wow, that is a very upfront and harsh-reality opening to a verse about a relationship on the verge of complete destruction. He doesn’t beat around the bush, even though the chords suggest some form of happiness. “Teach Me to Bear You” follows as an uber-slow, bluesy track with a twangy guitar that could be played in a barn somewhere deep within the delta. In this song, he begs a girl to change her ways or teach him to bear her wild antics. The end contains a Stevie Ray Vaughn-style solo played at snail’s speed to draw a truly dark finale to the song.

“Go Folks, Go” could have been written by Jack Johnson (if his songs weren’t aimed towards liberal college girls). The chords almost embody that island feel as Oldham talks in riddles and broken phrases to express his love. Most notable is a line where he states, “I can jump when you say, ‘Boo!’” That’s true love right there. “Merciless and Great” is so quiet that I kept thinking my iPod battery had died on the breaks in the song. The vocals are that of a wandering mountain-man minstrel, and it’s usually at this point in the album when my mind is in a total state of relaxed consciousness. The song is so tranquil, almost like rain falling in a Tibetan monastery, and the guitar ripples sort of like water in its long and low notes.

The closer is a track called “Kids”, which I jokingly contemplated on the idea of being an acoustic MGMT cover. This is not the case. It’s probably the darkest finale since Kurt Cobain sang “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” on MTV Unplugged. Oldham weeps into the mic with his guitar softly being strummed as he states, “Kids/I hope in/Twenty years/I can sing this song.” I don’t think he means his voice is giving out, especially when he informs us, “I feel my mind is going.” It’s the most honest portrayal of fear any artist could ever produce on record and deliver with such sincerity as he delivers a powerful message to his audience.

Bonnie “Prince” Billy can clearly continue to make albums because he makes honest records about the world around him. Anybody can have knowledge of the world at large, but to be able to channel it in such a beautiful and honest form of music is truly remarkable, even if the viewpoint is as dark as a Hitchcock film. People must enjoy his records enough due to his honesty, which is what triggers them to go out and buy his records in the first place. Either that, or they just like to sleep soundly and hear intelligence after a long day of dealing with idiots.

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