Pop Albums: Will Oldham Joya (Domino WIG39CD)

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Crawling out from beneath the shelter of his Palace persona, sadcore star Will Oldham appears more focused here than usual, particularly on the opening "O Let It Be", where the piano, guitar and rhythm section are strange, powerful forces sweeping his frail voice along, almost despite itself. Flitting between notes in what seems like involuntary melisma, it's as if the song is raw truth being tugged out of him.

As the album proceeds, it settles into the familiar folksy emptiness, with spare, slow backings lending an enigmatic, trance-like feel to the songs; but the sense of unguarded truth persists. Oldham's voice is a veneer of fragility masking a selfish, sometimes spiteful soul - it might sound like he's the victim of these songs, but that's rarely the case. In "Antagonism", covert surveillance of an old acquaintance leads him to muse upon the way time smoothes away old empathies: "We'd been close it had been a long time ago/ But I had hardened myself and him I do not know/ He just stayed soft and never seemed to grow". And when he attempts a love song, it's couched as a non-apology for previous nastiness, with only the promise of further recidivism: "Open your heart/ Let this snake in". Who could resist?

What makes Oldham unique is the way he breaks the link songwriters tend to make between honesty and morality. Honesty is so often used as a weapon to challenge others' moral lapses: the truth-telling is piously externalised, the better to polish the singer's ego. Oldham, by contrast, makes no claim on the moral high ground - his truth is uncomfortably raw, unapologetically from the heart.