Frontier Ruckus


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le 16.03.2009 à 06:00 · par Thibaut G.

Matthew Millia is Frontier Ruckus' main man. The bluegrass-folk band from Michigan released the fantastic The Orion Songbook in late 2008 via Quite Scientific. Here is the review of his favourite album he sent to Millefeuille with the same loquacity, complexity and fascinating aspects you can find in his lyrics.

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy sings Greatest Palace Music

For some reason, my thoughts toward this album have proven to be extremely difficult for me to compose. The undertaking beckons my defenses for so many things. I found myself writing pages in advocation of country music—whether I was doing so devilishly or due to the fact that I myself indulge in many forms of country music daily. Allow me to sum up my complaint, which isn’t all that unique: I do not feel that there is a more unfairly stigmatized, pigeonholed, or stereotyped musical art form than country music. Now, I am not fighting the safe battle which would be to speak only to the obvious merits of vintage Hank Williams or even to qualify modern country music via celebration of the cute twists of cowboy nostalgia that are now saturating indie culture. These things—the safe, distant past and the safe appropriation of the distant past—are already securely hip, and this is half of my annoyance. I would like to defend white trash, through-the-radio-on-your-way-to-work, ignorant, escapist, American, gaudily pedal-steeled, growing-closer-to-pop-music-every-day country music. Whatever you want to call it, whatever it has been called. While the irony of championing commercial radio pop music, however clichéd, has become ubiquitously acceptable as an excuse for people who were once ashamed that they enjoyed it to enjoy it, pop country has been left in the lowbrow and leprous dark. That said, I am not so much saddened by the vanity causing country music’s uncoolness as I am by what is being neglected in the process—a historical evolution of beautiful, human reaction. This is reaction to the nation; to the economy; to love; to cheating women; to whiskey; to the workday; to cheating men; to an indelible, internal notion of home, etc. Surely, country music has largely become a parody of itself. But just as surely, we modern, abstract-capable thinkers can enter the metanarrative to glean out the value, the vestigial beauty, the organic lexicon still hiding within our tacky country legacy as we do our tacky pop legacy.

OK—with that believe-it-or-not abbreviated disclaimer aside, what does all of this have to do with Bonnie 'Prince' Billy singing Greatest Palace Music. For me, Greatest Palace Music is two things—Bonnie 'Prince' Billy’s most under-looked album, and also my favorite country record of the modern era. I’ve heard people talk of its polish as if it were something odious, sacrilegious—the gall to feed the rough gem that is the sacred and now-trendily lo-fi Palace catalogue through the saccharine, blue collar, mindless machine that is country music! Well, one reason I love this album so much is due to that rebellion. It dismisses the bullshit stereotypes placed on country music and instead celebrates the tropes and fixtures of an amazingly intricate but horribly stigmatized art form.

But despite my personal reading, I do not really see Will Oldham’s motivation behind this recording as one of rebellion. I explain it by my faith that Oldham has always been as much of a country singer as he has a visceral, singular linguist of a crackling poetry. His vocabulary has always been his own and otherworldly, but so much else about him as always had the beautiful feel of being borrowed. What I see occurring in this album is the complete realization of the Palace songs as the country songs they always were—Oldham catching up with the modern status of his borrowed vein. And they become so heartbreakingly perfect in this actualization. The instrumentation in Greatest Palace Music is flawless, and though I feel as though I’ve memorized every lick I hear a new hidden texture each time that reminds me of country music at every stage of its stylistic progression simultaneously, shamelessly. The tone of the pedal steel guitar that endlessly finishes the sentences of the rolling-note piano that droops exactly where the fiddle swells is the aural embodiment for every bit of longing that Oldham throats out:

If you like we two could take a ride, I would love to take you down…if you wait another day—I will wait a day…well I would not have moved if I knew you were here…now you’ll haunt me, you’ll haunt me until I’ve paid for what I’ve done, it’s a payment which precludes the having of fun…will you miss me when I burn, and will you eye me with a longing? It is longing that I feel—to be missed or to be real…when you have no one, no one can hurt you…

We must not hold it against Bonnie 'Prince' Billy for seeking such pure, harmonious instrumentation to dress the purity and gorgeousness of emotion that always resided in those songs. We should embrace him for providing an alternative mode to experience or hatch them. If you listen closely to Greatest Palace Music, you will hear the subtle inextricabilities of simplemindedness and genius, love and lust, pureness and decrepitness, darkness and lightness that were always present in the Palace songs, but in an aesthetical environment that nourishes them in a wholly different manner—transforming the worlds which they bubble up in Gulf waters or drag through the muddy Ohio. And whether it’s for better or for worse, there’s absolutely no reason why you should feel ashamed to listen closely and without prejudice, or worse yet, feel ashamed once you find yourself inclined to live in the harmony of their new forms.

  • The french version here.

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