Artist: Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
Title: Cursed Sleep
Format: Single-Sided 12" Single
Catalogue Number: RUG230T
Year of Release: 2006
A1 Cursed Sleep (5:23)
A2 The Signifying Wolf (3:39)
A3 God's Small Song (3:46)
This one-sided single, the B-side being strangely blank (you'd expect an etching or something, surely?), was released ahead of the excellent album The Letting Go. So far ahead in fact that they hadn't settled on the name of the album yet, as on here it's down as 'Then The Letting Go'.
There are new collaborators on this record, Dawn McCarthy for one, adding vocals, and Icelandic producer Valgeir Sigurdsson. There's a string quarter too, most prominent on the title track, which I will from here render as Curséd Sleep, on account of it always being sung as cur-said.
Have a listen yourself, and watch the strange quasi-story of a video:
I think the string arrangements, in fact the arrangements of the song as a whole, are stunning. Melodic motifs crop up repeated by the different instruments throughout, and there's something about it that you can never quite predict. Lyrically it's one of Bonnie's finest tales of being willingly trapped and powerless. After some sketching in of Will and his lover asleep, where he dreams "of her inside of me", typically, then song builds to this:
then waking she was older still
and holds my love against its will
in spell cast with her palms extended
cursed love is never ended
cursed eyes are never closing
cursed arms are never closing
cursed children never rising
cursed me never despising
Dawn's backing vocals making the last section there particularly spine-tingling.
I'm going to take an unusual step here, and host the mp3 of the second song. Here it is: Download bside_the_signifying_wolf.mp3
I'm doing this because I love it so much, and as Loudon Wainwright says, it's OK to steal, coz it's so nice to share. I love its raucousness. I love the idea of Will Oldham stomping about in sealskin trousers.I love the background whooping, wolf cries and heavy breathing. It's just such great fun, and I want you to love it too. I won't be making a habit of this, as what I really want is for people to buy records. And if Domino ask me to I'll take it down.
The final song is almost the opposite. Gentle, pensive and sparse compared to what's just happened. Here's a review from Pitchfork. Didn't grab me as much as that reviewer, but you'll need to buy it to find out for yourself, and I recommend that you do.