Album Reviews

Matt Sweeney & Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy: Superwolves – “beautiful moments from simplicity”

The ’90s stalwarts return with their first collaboration in 16 years.

Matt Sweeney and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy resuming their alliance has been a long time coming.

After the pair’s cult debut album, Superwolf, 16 years on and it does seem like a stretch to suggest that Superwolves is somewhat of a companion piece, but that’s exactly what it feels like.

“The chemistry comes from lives, lived separately, in which music is crucial sustenance. We construct our dream selves with the faith that these selves will have their chance at life. We know what we are capable of doing and just need each other’s support to bring the imagined languages to life,” said ‘Prince’ Billy (a.k.a Will Oldham) prior to the release of Superwolves.

The songwriting not so much showcases two artists at ease, but the songs on Superwolves do hold a revitalised intimacy and refined quality.

Oldham in particular has struggled to reach the heights of his downright incredible I See A Darkness. In fairness, with a masterpiece like ‘Darkness, most songwriters would.

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The driving force behind the post-hardcore behemoth in Chavez, Sweeney harnesses Oldham‘s finest qualities as a songwriter and with that it’s fair to say that their alliance fits like a glove.

Superwolves has been a work in progress for five years, with recording taking place before the COVID-19 pandemic, first at Brooklyn’s Strange Weather studios followed by a session at the Butcher Shoppe in Nashville with mixing taking place over both sites between Sweeney and Oldham.

Given the current logistical nightmare of making music anywhere in the world, on Superwolves, Sweeney and Oldham are joined throughout by David Ferguson (stand-up bass), Mike Coltunon (electric bass), Mdou Moctar (electric lead guitar), Ahmoudou Madassane (rhythm guitar), Mike Rojas (keys) with drumming duties shared by Souleyman IbrahimRyan Sawyer and Peter Townsend.  

Opening song, Make Worry for Me, is bluesy folk number that sneaks out of the tall grass, as Oldham‘s warm wispy voice projects the message, “Love is love and now is the hour”. It’s that brutal honesty that contains one of the darkest moments on Superwolves (My Body Is My Own the only cut matching it).

Matt Sweeney & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Superwolves

God Is Waiting and I Am a Youth Inclined to Ramble are river-walk waltzes, electrified by with Sweeney‘s post-hardcore leanings where subtle electrified arrangements are like embers that provide a gentle warmth around Oldham‘s homely diatribes.

Lead single, Hall of Death, pricks the ears from the first engagement, containing a peculiar sonic bedding of Irish folk and Eastern rhythms that would light up a barnyard on a Saturday night.

Projecting the organic spark of Oldham‘s ’90s output, Shorty’s Ark is a beautiful journey through the animal kingdom. It’s the kind of song the pair couldn’t have written 16 years ago.

So too, My Popsicle. Alongside Good to My Girls, here are a pair of gorgeous songs with Sweeney‘s soft backing vocal hushes playing into the hands of  Oldham‘s storytelling where he leads us through the mundane aspects of everyday life and how we can extract the most beautiful moments from simplicity.

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And speaking of, a song like My Blue Suit is something that Oldham in particular may have lost sight of over the years. Always an artist with a burning itch to collaborate, Oldham goes back to the default position of simplicity and songs like this make his work all the better.

Prior to Superwolves‘ release, Sweeney spoke about the challenge of writing melodies for his old sparring partner to sing.

Knowing that Will’s voice will elevate the melody makes me reach higher and dig deeper for the tune,” he said.

Whilst it may be a challenge, Superwolves sounds anything but. Both Sweeney and Oldham present something that seems effortless. An earthy collection of songs to huddle around the bonfire to on a wintry night.

The only real surprise is that Superwolves took so long. That’s life, though, as Sweeney and Oldham know only too well and here their worlds are merged where we can all garner something worthy from it.  

Superwolves is out now via Domino Recording Co. Purchase from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

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