Pop: This Week's Album Releases

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The Independent Culture
Bonnie Prince Billy

I See A Darkness

Domino

WILL OLDHAM'S whimsical penchant for changing his name with each successive release (Palace Brothers, Palace Music, Palace, even Will Oldham) has already resulted in the Belfast leg of his tour being cancelled, no local promoter having the courage - or the suicidal stupidity - to advertise a show by .

You have to say it's their loss: I See A Darkness is Oldham's most beguiling release yet, a marvellous album which endows his characteristic melancholy with an uplifting, epiphanic grace.

Oldham's compositions are exquisitely-wrought pieces whose manner is always in perfect accord with their form - which here shifts more than ever towards traditional folksong. "A Minor Place" has the comfy quality of rhymes that have been around forever and a day. And though "Nomadic Revery (All Around)" builds to a rousing, storm-tossed, gospel-shanty climax suggestive of derangement, the peculiar, convoluted shifts of tense in Oldham's verses have clearly been crafted like complex marquetry, syllables and shades of meaning slotting seamlessly together beneath the surface commotion.

The album's real power, however, lies in the way Oldham makes it all seem so natural, the way his frail, fleeting delivery and weatherbeaten arrangements add a convincing patina of antiquity to these songs. They're not the musical equivalent of repro furniture, nor do they sound like retouched roots-music exercises - they really do have the authentic feel of songs that have been smoothed to perfection over centuries, like well- whittled sticks, or folk memories passed on at a mother's breast. The first essential album of the year.

BLACK STAR LINER

Bengali Bantam Youth Experience!

WEA

THE ANGLO-ASIAN music explosion continues apace, with the pioneering rap and indie work of Apache Indian, FunDaMental and Cornershop succeeded by the cosmopolitan sound experiments of the Outcaste crew, Asian Dub Foundation and Black Star Liner - whose second album is a hugely enjoyable set of infectious trance-rock. The hypnotic chatter of the grooves is intriguingly detailed with sonic bric-a-brac - twists of sitar, strings, hums, twangs and sabre-clash percussion. The band derives most of its idiosyncratic character, however, from the Indian-Trinidadian vocalist Choque Hossein, whose declamatory toasting style is in the tradition of Bo Diddley and Beefheart and Big Youth: loud and enigmatic and often funny, too. When Choque revs up his engine in "Low BMW", he all but becomes the car: "heyyyy... boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, brrrrrr! BMW, double double bass!" - with a demented dignity that's quite, quite mad, and quite perfect: a hit, a palpable hit.

ALTERNATIVE TV

Apollo

Overground

THIS LATEST offering from the punk fanzine pioneer Mark Perry finds him still effectively - albeit ineffectually - fighting the battles of yesteryear: tracks such as "Oh Shit, We Fell From Grace" and "Communication Failure" are slabs of sullen drone-rock over which Perry intones glum, misanthropic diatribes about hopes betrayed and youthful delusions dashed. "The spark went out/ the lads gave in", he notes in the latter, which places him in exactly the same position he was some 30 years ago. The "dirty realism" that marked ATV's debut flexi-disc "Love Lies Limp", meanwhile, has decayed into tawdry, not-quite-pornographic details. Musically, ATV are moving towards a more loops'n'beats oriented sound, though there are still remnants of the Fall-style riffs of yore - but the album's best prole art grind, "Just a Memory", is thrown away at the tail end of the album. Still, in these obsequious, consumer-friendly times it's good to find something with the authentic, pissy tang of welfare anomie.

VARIOUS ARTISTS

New Highway

Abokadisc/Direct

THIS COMPILATION of American neo-roots music follows in the dusty footsteps of last year's Loose and Viva Americana anthologies, but suffers from diminishing returns; this may be the most fertile strain of American rock, but there's clearly a limit on quality. The album takes its title from Dave Alvin's modern hobo blues, but too many artists either veer off down the wrong highway (the prog-rock self-regard of Neal Casal's "Twilight of the Floods"), or settle for routine covers of old folk-rock chestnuts such as "Whiskey in the Jar" and "Washed My Hands in Muddy Waters". But there's compensation in the rough, rodeo exhilaration of Slobberbone's "Engine Joe", a tale of a natural mechanic reduced to flipping burgers, and Nadine's "Closer", plumbing the deeper, darker environs of sadcore. Cajun influences creep in with Billy Swan's rollicking version of "Mystery Train" and the loneliness of the long-distance performer is best evoked by Kevin Welch's "5 Million 1 Thousand Miles", a lived-in voice conveying a life that's barely living at all.

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