Magazine article Artforum International

Will Power

Magazine article Artforum International

Will Power

Article excerpt

I flew to Nashville. It rained a lot in my hotel room. The room filled with rain as a lung fills with air. The rain looked like sweat on the body I hired to dance before me, which shimmied with a twang and left the way a river is said to crest. On my bed, I prayed, paced between the coils, and sang "No Man Is an Island" to myself as the waters rose, a song for which I know neither words nor tune. It was a tuneless singing I did as it rained in my room in Nashville, and I rewrote War and Peace between the storms.

Streets in Nashville were desolate, store-fronts downtown desolate. Desolation seemed to be a theme. I had drinks in a revolving restaurant 28 stories up: 360 [degrees] of overlook turning around. I didn't go to the men's room until the men's room came to me.

Leaving Nashville on the evening flight, my steward looked like departure.

Will Oldham is the winsome kiddo responsible for Palace, a group that connects with country music only as a layover for a flight somewhere else entirely. Deputy of heartbreak, born a little over 20 years ago in Louisville, Kentucky, Oldham still thinks of things in terms of "distance from Louisville." More than a group, Palace is a rotation consisting of Oldham and the do-si-do around him, which differs from session to session: his brothers Ned and Paul, various cohorts, and more recently musicians he has never met or performed with before - Brianna Corrigan of The Beautiful South, Sean O'Hagan of Stereolab. Oldham and his sometime accomplice Todd Brashear chose "Palace" after reading John Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday, but there is nothing really down-home or agrarian about this: Palace - a.k.a. Palace Brothers and Palace Songs - conjures up something deluxe, aristocratic, and exiled.

The Louisville "scene," someone told me, encompasses one large apartment building, but I don't know if this is true. Wherever that scene is, Oldham has explored its gorgeous center, resulting in, well, the sound of Palace; Dianne Bellino's haunting Leonora Carrington-like calligraphy on Palace's sleeves (although the funky cursive scrawl of "PALACE" is Oldham's own); the stunning blur on the cover of Palace Brothers, a portrait of Oldham shot by Sean Childress, another Louisville connection who deserves to be more widely known. Hope, 1994, is Palace's third extended release, but don't hear it as a culmination, because Palace's two earlier full-length albums, There Is No One What Will Take Care Of You, 1993, and Palace Brothers, 1994, reveal nothing unsure. From any coast the ocean is still the ocean. Hope does have winter's blinding loveliness, though, and the plushest orchestration of any Palace production yet.

The most interesting singers are charismatics. Oldham's voice is as captivating as a snake handler, spooky and inexplicable as life itself, displaying riches usually considered embarrassing: flubs, tentative approaches, and mossy exhalations of breath - elements of Palace music because elemental to the everyday. Imagine someone singing by almost not singing at all, someone with fever as a voice coach, trained on covers of the Mekons, X, and sing-alongs with The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization. Full of contradiction, gentle and scary, in the end Oldham sounds like no one but himself.

Some critics have suggested that Oldham's voice is the most important contribution to Palace, but this underestimates his songwriting gifts and the brazenness of the group's sound machine. …

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