Will Oldham Discography: Entry #1, Part 2

(Palace, There Is No One What Will Take Care of You)
(Palace Brothers, Days In the Wake)

After reviewing Will Oldham on Bonnie "Prince" Billy for PopMatters, I decided it was time to start an experiment I've always envisioned--listening to an artists' entire discography. And, of course, blogging about it to the excitement of absolutely no one.

Days In the Wake wasn't the first Will Oldham album I heard, but it was the first one that I cared about. To begin, the cover of the album is something altogether unnatural. There is no indication of  album name, artist name, or what the contents might hold. It's cryptic and unsettling in a deliberate and enticing way. Not really knowing (or needing to know) who (or what) the image on the album cover is, makes it appealing. Almost as if the cover were an afterthought, an indirect assertion of murkiness.

But the album cover stands in complete contrast to the music on Days In the Wake. Oldham's voice is clearer, his songwriting has ticked up a notch or two, and there appear to be song structures and chord progressions in fistfuls. "You Will Miss Me When I Burn," despite having one of the best titles in the Oldham catalog, is a defining moment. I hear the early slivers of Oldham finding his voice, identifying with themes that he will return to, and plotting out melodic, repetitive choruses. "In the corners there is light/That is good for you/And behind you, I have warned you/There are awful things," Oldham sings over a distant acoustic guitar. Those are the corners he will spend much of his music exploring, fighting off the awful things behind us.

Days In the Wake has so many affective songs that it's hard to single out just one as beacon. Closer "I Am a Cinematographer" repeatedly makes it onto my late-night playlists and "Pushkin" is as close to a sing-along as we'll get from Oldham at this stage. Even seemingly filler tracks like "Come a Little Dog," complete with dog barks and yelling harmonies is unbroken in its abandon. And "Whither Thou Goest" is just stationary. It's a perfectly competent song, but doesn't hold up against the luster of, say, "(Thou) Without Partner" or "Meaulnes."

"No More Workhorse Blues" is a pivotal centerpiece to Days In the Wake. It's as anthemic as we're apt to get thus far into Oldham's career where he's still tweaking his persona and (literally) tuning his voice. And, so far, there's no better example of that then when he raises his voice up forcefully to declare: "I am no more workhorse, I am a grazing horse." For others it might be an admission of defeat or a declaration of dependency; for Oldham, it sounds like a call to arms.

Highlight Track: Tie between "You Will Miss Me When I Burn" and "I Am a Cinematographer." "Burn" may inch it out by a millimeter, just because of it's stronger lyrical content.
Weakest Track: "Whither Thou Goest" It's not bad, it's just not good.
Strangest Moment: Hearing Oldham bark on "Come a Little Dog"
Other Stray Observations:
  • The album was originally untitled or was self-titled Palace Brothers when it was released
  • The photo on the cover is apparently someone drinking a pint of beer
  • Complete album runtime is 26 minutes and 55 seconds
  • Do not try to listen to this album in your car--it does not work. Listen to it on vinyl or with headphones. 
  • I think "Come a Little Dog" is the only track with other musicians besides Oldham.
  • Much like Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska, this album seems to thrive on its own simplicity. And, like Nebraska, it was released at a time when excess in commercial music was de rigueur--April, 2004. Now that I've just written that statement, I think there's a good essay to be written about those two albums together.