Reviews

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Author: Chad Radford
06/03/2004 | Creative Loafing | www.creativeloafing.com | Live Show Preview
Joel Peterson doesn't listen to a lot of music. The bassist for Omaha, Neb.'s brooding electrobrats the Faint and nucleus behind the post-industrial throb of Broken Spindles transcends the fashionably erratic dance grooves of the former by obeying his own sturm und drang.

"It's hard to focus on your own melodies when you have so many other people's songs in your head," says Peterson. "My brain can only handle so much music at a time."

It's a pragmatic admission, one wholly opposite from Bonnie "Prince" Billy proprietor Will Oldham's humble testimonial: "I do listen to a lot of music. I like when something pushes my buttons and influences me to do something a little differently."

For over a decade, Oldham's countrified brooding, under Palace and Bonnie "Prince" Billy, has countered the signature math rock of his hometown, Louisville, Ky., with old-fashioned purity. Although his and Peterson's artistic directions are diametrically opposed, both artists are honing an increasingly holistic vision of their respective music and updating older formulas: Peterson has bent his method to improve on a detached approach, while Oldham is renewing some of his oldest recordings as Palace to bring them up-to-date.

On Thurs., June 10, Peterson and Oldham split an eccentric evening at the Echo Lounge, casting light on ultramodern vs. old-world undertakings.

Broken Spindles' second offering, Fulfilled: Complete (Saddle Creek), grafts icy string arrangements and a demoralized vocal presence onto dark electronic compositions. Where Spindles' 2002 debut emerged as a formless instrumental simmer, Fulfilled: Complete wraps stylishly organic and refined synthetic tension around Peterson's distorted vocal hiss.

"The first record is a little dry," says Peterson. "I wanted to add more of a human element to it. Vocal ideas popped into my head pretty naturally, so I didn't try to fight or rationalize them."

Peterson has also constructed a video piece to accompany his live performances. The more he works with visual aspects of the show, he says, the greater role they play in the music.

Oldham's latest outing, Bonnie "Prince" Billy Sings Greatest Palace Music (Drag City), revisits several of his older songs, stretching as far back as his 1992 debut single, "Ohio River Boat Song." Oldham has long blended the nuances of primitive roots music with his own distinctive voice. For Greatest Palace Music, he assembled a handful of friends, relatives and studio musicians to re-record older material, placing the songs into the grander Bonnie "Prince" Billy repertoire.

"A lot of people hear I See a Darkness and come to the shows, but hear songs that aren't on that record," says Oldham. "We wanted to make a record that's Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, but has a lot of the older songs we play live."

One of the most affecting elements of Oldham's songwriting is a poignant wordplay that often wanders into a cryptic religious dialect, and Greatest Palace Music maintains the tradition. Though religious references played a large role in early American music, the practice has greatly diminished in modern indie rock. As a result, Oldham has gained a reputation for confusing listeners by inserting weighty religious imagery into his albums with awkward fervor -- leaving many to wonder if he's sincere or using religion simply for its aesthetic value.

"I don't know how to deny spirituality," says Oldham. "It's an aesthetic thing just as much as it is spiritual. Whatever religion you are or aren't, God pretty much means the same thing. It makes you happy or sad or it makes zero sense, and if people are confused by that, then join the club. It just shows the level of confusion I deal with on a daily basis being multiplied by however many of my records are being manufactured."

While Peterson may only listen to his own music to avoid confusion, Oldham's decade-long career has been a means to plod through his bewilderment.
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