Palace Brothers: Days in the Wake
1994, Drag City
Palace Brothers is one of the many incarnations of Louisville, Kentucky born, Will Oldham. Originally, Oldham performed under a variety of “Palace” related names including Palace Brothers, Palace Music, Palace Songs, along with simply, Palace. In 1999, he released his first album under his new moniker, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, and left his Palace days in the past.
No matter what pseudonym Oldham has adopted, I’ve always adored his work. However, my favorite album is Days in the Wake by Palace Brothers. Similarly to my other great love, Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel, Oldham has one of those unconventional voices. It’s a voice that is weighty in emotion, but so fragile in its sound, that if it were tangible you’d have to be careful not to drop it, because it would break. Days in the Wake is Oldham, a guitar and his vocals that pleasantly crack when he tries to reach those high notes – an album with its roots planted in the Americana and folk genres.
Days in the Wake makes your skin crawl. You can actually feel the hairs stand up on the back of your neck during “Come A Little Dog.” It’s as though you’re peering into the window of a barn and happen to catch a few men sitting around a fire singing a makeshift, out of sorts song; one that not only mentions the killing of a “little cat” and a “little dog,” but also includes an eerie whooping sound that haunts you long after it’s over. It’s dark and disturbing. Immediately afterwards, the album takes a turn and slips into ballad mode with “I Send My Love to You.” It’s a beautiful acoustic song of pleas, of giving and taking, and of devotion, and Oldham’s voice warbles perfectly through the lyrics with a sleepy, love-drawn tone.
Will Oldham is a poet, and an amazing songwriter. His gift for the written word is evident throughout all of Days in the Wake, but it’s in the album’s final song, “I Am a Cinematographer,” that his lyrical talent is most present: “And I walked away from New York City/And I walked away from everything that’s good/And I walked away from everything I leaned on/Only to find it’s made of wood, made of wood.”
No matter what name he chooses to perform under, Oldham is an icon in the independent music world. He has managed to conquer so many genres without selling out or becoming trite and unoriginal; he is constantly reinventing himself and his sound. He did a duet with Johnny Cash, appeared in Kanye West’s “Cant’s Tell Me Nothing” video with Zach Galifianakis, and is the photographer behind the legendary cover of Slint’s 1991 Spiderland album. Will Oldham is this generation’s renaissance man… and Days in the Wake is where we get to hear him bare-boned and enchanting.
By: Amanda Chatel