COVER IMAGE
LP released: Aug 30, 2019

Tracklisting:
1. Beast For Thee
2. Down In The Willow Gardern
3. New Partner
4. Underneath The Floorboards
5. One With The Birds
6. When Thy Song
7. Banks Of Red Roses
8. Stay On It
BONNIE PRINCE BILLY/BRYCE DESSNER/EIGHTH BLACKBIRD
WHEN WE ARE INHUMAN [2LP]
Label: 37D03D
Cat No: 37D03D004
Barcode: 843563115800
Packaging: LP Regular

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 MusicNOW
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. The party is political. – Will Robin