Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Bryce Dessner, Eighth Blackbird — When We Are Inhuman “Prince” Billy, Bryce Dessner, Eighth Blackbird — When We Are Inhuman Pamela MÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃéndez ÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃÃâ Time (22 Feb 2019)Birth name: William Oldham
Born: January 15, 1970
Location: Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Album release: Aug. 30th, 2019
Record Label: 37d03d
Duration:     18:18+32:47 => 51:05
LP 1
1 Beast for Thee   5:24
2 Down in the Willow Garden   5:14
3 New Partner   4:04
4 Underneath the Floorboards   3:36
LP 2
1 One with the Birds   6:08
2 When Thy Song   4:17
3 Banks of Red Roses   5:55
4 Stay on It   16:27
by Philip Moss; Score: 84
•⊆⊇•     Will Oldham is undoubtedly one of the most important and best songwriters America has produced in the last three decades. But despite the brilliant solo work he’s produced — much of which was collated on last year’s understatedly stunning Songs of Love and Horror — large proportions of his career have been built on collaboration with the likes of The Bitchin’ Bajas, The Cairo Gang and Trembling Bells. The latest of which comes in the form of When We Are Inhuman: a body of work that has been developed with The National’s Bryce Dessner, and the contemporary classical group, Eighth Blackbird.
•⊆⊇•     Three Will Oldham songs are reimagined on the record. Beast For Thee, which incidentally also spawned from Superwolf, his collaborative album with Matt Sweeney, sees the Zwan man’s shimmering guitar and ominous synth, replaced by a wash of percussion and strings. Lisa Kaplin’s extended introduction builds the tension before Oldham’s knowing voice enters, and he is joined beautifully by Nathalie Joachim’s harmony vocals. New Partner, originally found on the Palace Music record, Viva Last Blues, sees the rawness of Steve Albini’s production replaced by a bright live recording from a show in Cincinnati, OH. Again, the fluttering backing from Eighth Blackbird provides the perfect backdrop for Oldham’s voice, which truly takes off as the song reaches its climactic ending. While One With The Birds — a track lifted from a 1998 EP of the same same — is definitely the least well known of the three songs presented by Oldham; Dessner’s production, as throughout, is spacious and tasteful, and provides real treasure even for long time fans.
•⊆⊇•     Interweaved between the Oldham penned tracks are Down In The Willow Garden and Banks of Red Roses. Both tracks — arranged by Bryce Dessner, and taken from his classical series, Murder Ballades — see Oldham taking on traditional song: the former being a classic Appalachian tune, which is recited from the perspective of a man who’s to be executed for murdering his love, therefore, providing perfect material for one of America’s truly great storytelling songwriters. Before the collection reaches its conclusion through Eighth Blackbird’s rhythmic 16 minute reimagining of Julius Eastman’s iconic Stay On It.
•⊆⊇•     When We Are Inhuman is yet another fine instalment in the Bonnie Prince Billy saga — and as a group of collaborators, this record certainly makes you wonder what they could rustle up with a full set of new, original songs. That really could be something special… Secret Meeting score: 84
Will Robin
•⊆⊇•     Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy (aka Will Oldham) and The National’s Bryce Dessner have teamed with contemporary classical ensemble Eighth Blackbird for a new collaborative album When We Are Inhuman released via Dessner and Justin Vernon’s 37d03d record label.
•⊆⊇•     The eight~track effort finds Eight Blackbird creating new arrangements of songs from Oldham’s catalog alongside new entries in Dessner’s Murder Ballades series. There’s also the Appalachian standard “Down in the Will Garden” and a track inspired by Sufjan Stevens’ “John Wayne Gacy Jr.” called “Underneath the Floorboards”. The opening song is a version of the late Julius Eastman’s “Stay on It”, a track which “harnessed the vocabulary of minimalism for joyfully insurgent ends.”
•⊆⊇•     Julius Eastman and Will Oldham are kindred spirits. Self~styled provocateurs, they have positioned themselves on the outskirts of distinct traditions, pulling all manners of musical influence towards their outré stance. Eastman, who passed away in 1990 and whose work is experiencing a necessary revival, harnessed the vocabulary of minimalism for joyfully insurgent ends; Oldham’s songwriting regularly conjures a pantheon that Greil Marcus called “the old, weird America.”
•⊆⊇•     Last spring, these two visionaries collided at Cincinnati’s Music NOW Festival#, and any distance between them was mediated by curator Bryce Dessner and ensemble Eighth Blackbird. On this album, woven between new arrangements of Oldham’s cryptic songs and Eastman’s iconic Stay on It are several of Dessner’s Murder Ballades, works that tease out the homicidal strain of old folk tunes. In Down in the Willow Garden, a classic Appalachian tune, Oldham sings bleary~eyed atop harshly twanging timbres; Underneath the Floorboards takes inspiration from a recent murderous classic by Sufjan Stevens.
•⊆⊇•     These explorations of violence are natural fits for Oldham, who has always examined the interstices between intimacy and cruelty. Four of his songs appear here in new, sumptuous arrangements by pianist Lisa Kaplan. In Cincinnati, Oldham compared working with Eighth Blackbird to becoming acquainted with a “haunted house,” continually returning to the same spot and observing how his fear was interlaced with a charged energy. The arrangements push Oldham’s voice to new heights, as in the ecstatic refrain of New Partner or the lithe polyrhythms of Beast for Thee. On One with the Birds and When Thy Song, shimmering introductions deploy avant~garde effects as a window into Oldham’s bleak, poignant sound world.
•⊆⊇•     Musicologist Matthew Mendez has identified the web of influences on Eastman’s Stay on It: a post~Stonewall queer subjectivity, which the composer~performer flaunted; disco hits by Diana Ross, to which Eastman regularly danced at a Buffalo gay bar; and 1970s minimalism, via Eastman’s emphasis on what he called not “the pulse” but “the beat.” Stay on It was worked out in performance in the ‘70s, and no complete score exists. This live rendition, based on archival recordings, sharpens the edges of Eastman’s music while still capturing its anarchic ideal. Oldham’s repetitions of Stay on it are subversively subdued, and Dessner’s guitar inserts a punch of the urbane. The riff mutates, changes, fades away, returns triumphantly. It overpowers and is overpowered. Boundaries between musicians and audience dissolve — in concert, percussionist Matthew Duvall ran off the stage to make a surround~sound ruckus — addressing the broader political hierarchies that Eastman sought to triumphantly topple. —  •⊆⊇• 
Notes: #
•⊆⊇•     The MusicNOW Festival was founded by Dessner in April 2006. The festival is an annual showcase of the best in contemporary music, featuring musicians from around the world, and is held in Cincinnati, Ohio. The first festival was held at the small downstairs room at the Cincinnati CAC and featured performances from Wilco’s Glenn Kotche, The Books, Erik Freidlander, Bell Orchestre, Burmese drummer Kyaw Kyaw Naing, and the Clogs. The following year the festival was moved to the Cincinnati Memorial Hall, which would become its home for the next several years. As the festival grew and established itself as an important annual cultural event, Dessner continued to curate line~ups that featured risk~taking artists who do not fit neatly into genre~defined categories.
•⊆⊇•     MusicNOW celebrated its ten~year anniversary of the festival in 2015. To mark this special occasion the festival expanded to include five nights of performances in three venues. The year’s festival included performances from Lone Bellow, Mina Tindle, Perfume Genius, The National, Sō Percussion, Butt Nothings, Will Butler, and many others. Continuing the tradition from last year, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra was featured throughout the weekend. In honor of the ten~year anniversary the festival also released “MusicNOW — 10 Years,” a compilation album collecting live recordings of some of the best performances the series has seen over the past decade. The festival returns to Cincinnati for its twelve season in January 2017.
•⊆⊇•     Past festivals have featured festival~only collaborations, such as one between David Cossin and Glenn Kotche; new music from Sufjan Stevens, Richard Reed Parry (of Arcade Fire); and performances by Tinariwen, Steve Reich, Owen Pallett, The National (band), Grizzly Bear (band), Joanna Newsom, Kronos Quartet and many, many more.