Collaborations are at the heart of most musical creations. Music is the ultimate communal experience, and anyone who’s ever picked up an instrument and jammed for fun with friends at a party, knows the simple joy of making a musical racket with your pals. So a collaboration between Drag City label mates Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and the Bitchin Bajas probably isn’t as farfetched as it may seem. What’s odd at first sight is the fact that the respective artists seem to dwell at opposite ends of the musical spectrum. Will Oldham is a tunesmith, known for meticulously crafted and arranged indie folk records, whereas Bitchin Bajas are all about creating mostly improvised ambient soundscapes with the help of an array of acoustic and electric instruments.
Obviously common ground needed to be found, and what transpired is Oldham’s lyrical contribution is limited-if one can use that word-to the sort of fairly banal phrases and sayings you can expect to find on a Hallmark greeting card or a fortune cookie, repeated over and over again, mantra- like over the bed of sound provided by Bitchin Bajas. As it turns out Oldham has made a habit of keeping his fortune cookies and picked out the best ones for his vocal contributions to this release.
What might have sounded pedestrian or contrived in any other context, becomes intriguing and at times positively dada-esque. The phrases begin to take on different meanings as the music sinks in, much the same way the Bitchin Bajas’ music unfolds in layer upon layer of subtle variations and ever changing textures. In that sense Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties is a collaboration in the truest sense of the word, as Oldham appears to have adapted his singing to the stream-of-consciousness methods of his co-conspirators, allowing the music to breathe and evolve organically without such intrusive concepts as song structure or narrational development.
Your Heart is Pure, Your Mind Is Clear, Your Soul Devout sounds like a mash up of Philip Glass and Harry Partch , starting off with bird whistles and evolving into a shimmering, droning, clanging noise fest slightly reminiscent of a Hare Krishna procession.
Your Whole Family Are Well features raga like flute and guitar lines over droning church organ bringing to mind the Door’s epic the End.
You Are Not superman is the closest we get to an actual song, as Oldham intones barely discernible lyrics over abstract, gradually changing synth loops and drones.
Despair Is Criminal unfolds slowly over ebbing and flowing washes of sound, lulling you into a pleasant dream-like trance.
Show Your Love and Your Love Will Be Returned is a personal favorite, bringing to mind some of Eno’s work on Bowie’s /Low/Heroes/Lodger trilogy as delicately quavering synth tones duke it out with tribal drumming and lanky guitar patterns.
Closer Your Hard Work Is About To Pay Off is another one that most resembles a traditional song, with Oldham’s acoustic guitar joined by what sounds like oboe and trippy backup vocals. This one would not be out of place on a compilation of obscure 60s psychedelic tunes. The song ends abruptly, rather shockingly, perhaps leaving the door open for future collaborations between these unlikely partners in crime. Which would be far from a bad thing. For now, we can enjoy an interesting addition to the oeuvres of both Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and the Bitchin Bajas as their respective muses find common ground in this adventurous and intriguing release.
Review by: Phil Vanderyken
Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties is Out Now via Drag City
Order the CD / Vinyl via Amazon