11 Songs, 37 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

I See a Darkness marked the debut of Will Oldham’s Bonnie “Prince” Billy nom de rock, which in the two decades since has become his primary moniker. Unceremonious in its sound, the album is a natural continuation of Oldham’s previous work as Palace Brothers and Palace Music—yet it was the most powerful and perfected realization of his songwriting to date. I See a Darkness was lauded by critics, fans, and, notably, many other artists; within a year of the album’s release, Johnny Cash would record a cover of the title track with Oldham singing backup, cementing his graduation from underground phenomenon to master of contemporary American songwriting. Darkness fused do-it-yourself indie rock and the American country folk-blues idiom with lyrics that are as spiritually raw as they are wry, all in a voice that was ragged, boyish, and tremulous.

Drawing from the vintage work of Merle Haggard, The Louvin Brothers, and modern R&B, the songs are mordant (“I See a Darkness”), eerie, corporeal, and sensual (“The scars of last year’s storm/Rest like maggots on my arm,” he sings on “A Minor Place”). The recurring, doomy theme of death’s inevitability is woven with lighter scenes of earthly connection: professions of love, of brotherly bond, by an invitation to get under someone’s dress (“Death to Everyone”). For all of the anxiousness and fear he voices on Darkness, Oldham got indie-rock songwriting out of its own head and lowered it down into the rest of the body with lyrics that were sometimes comically ribald (the itemized “buttock” of “Nomadic Revery [All Around]”) or explicitly sexual (“Knockturne”).

Within independent rock, I See a Darkness was a paradigm-shifting album, the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan of its era, with Oldham’s peculiar and publicity-averse now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t persona making him nearly as enigmatic. Its impact on the sound and style of Oldham’s peers was both immediate (including Björk, Cat Power, Wilco) and lasting (Songs: Ohia, Iron & Wine, Bon Iver, Father John Misty), ushering in an era of albums that strived toward similarly unadorned production, casual eroticism, and visceral intensity.

EDITORS’ NOTES

I See a Darkness marked the debut of Will Oldham’s Bonnie “Prince” Billy nom de rock, which in the two decades since has become his primary moniker. Unceremonious in its sound, the album is a natural continuation of Oldham’s previous work as Palace Brothers and Palace Music—yet it was the most powerful and perfected realization of his songwriting to date. I See a Darkness was lauded by critics, fans, and, notably, many other artists; within a year of the album’s release, Johnny Cash would record a cover of the title track with Oldham singing backup, cementing his graduation from underground phenomenon to master of contemporary American songwriting. Darkness fused do-it-yourself indie rock and the American country folk-blues idiom with lyrics that are as spiritually raw as they are wry, all in a voice that was ragged, boyish, and tremulous.

Drawing from the vintage work of Merle Haggard, The Louvin Brothers, and modern R&B, the songs are mordant (“I See a Darkness”), eerie, corporeal, and sensual (“The scars of last year’s storm/Rest like maggots on my arm,” he sings on “A Minor Place”). The recurring, doomy theme of death’s inevitability is woven with lighter scenes of earthly connection: professions of love, of brotherly bond, by an invitation to get under someone’s dress (“Death to Everyone”). For all of the anxiousness and fear he voices on Darkness, Oldham got indie-rock songwriting out of its own head and lowered it down into the rest of the body with lyrics that were sometimes comically ribald (the itemized “buttock” of “Nomadic Revery [All Around]”) or explicitly sexual (“Knockturne”).

Within independent rock, I See a Darkness was a paradigm-shifting album, the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan of its era, with Oldham’s peculiar and publicity-averse now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t persona making him nearly as enigmatic. Its impact on the sound and style of Oldham’s peers was both immediate (including Björk, Cat Power, Wilco) and lasting (Songs: Ohia, Iron & Wine, Bon Iver, Father John Misty), ushering in an era of albums that strived toward similarly unadorned production, casual eroticism, and visceral intensity.

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Ratings and Reviews

4.9 out of 5
37 Ratings

37 Ratings

Glym ,

Greatness

With over 4,000 songs and counting on my ipod, I can still say this is one of the best albums I own. Though I like a lot of Oldham's other stuff as well, this to me seems like his most realized and cohesive album. It adds up to punch me in a way very few albums do. Oddly too, I can appreciate these songs in the midst of despair or complete comfort. It's one of those albums I just truly thankful for.

DylanFan97 ,

I See A Darkness

One of the most beautiful albums I have ever heard, it's my first Will Oldham album. I came to it through Pitchfork Media's list of the 100 greatest albums of the '90's, where it was ranked 9th. Forget the '90's, this is one of the best records ever. I mean if The Man in Black covered the title track, it has to be good...

Louisville Slugger ,

Why don't you have this?

One of the best albums that I own. Conveys that bleak outlook that somehow remians tinged with hope better than any of Oldham's other work. If you like any of his other stuff, get this. The sound is a bit heavier than his more countrified stuff (i.e. Palace music, ease down the road, etc.) or the more atmospheric Letting Go, and to good effect.

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