July 30, 2008
Days in the Wake
1994 | Drag City
Will Oldham occupies a unique, odd position in the greater Americana subconscious. Far from a household name, but universally known among certain sects of record nerds, Oldham has been making music with an ever-evolving cast of supporting characters and, initially, an ever-evolving name, since his auspicious debut with the 1993 Palace Brothers album There is No-One What Will Take Care Of You.
Perhaps Oldham and Co.’s finest moment is Days in the Wake, a collection of simple ballads that centers almost entirely around Oldham’s high, reedy voice and gentle but propulsive acoustic guitar. A far cry from what he’s doing these days (as Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Oldham’s new Lie Down in the Light is routinely gorgeous and surprisingly “up”), Days in the Wake often sounds like abject sadness set to music. “When you have no one, no one can hurt you,” goes the opening line to “You Will Miss Me When I Burn”, setting a precedent for a long descent into loneliness. Indeed, on “I Send My Love to You” and “Meaulines”, Oldham’s voice audibly cracks; whether from vocal strain or emotion is unknown. The effect, however, makes Oldham sound like a lost kid, desperate to be heard through a haze of white noise.
What sets Days in the Wake apart from the multitudes of other sad bastard, solo acoustic guitar albums? The fact that this was released in 1993, probably just before Nirvana’s Unplugged special aired. Although popular music had gotten very “cool” by that point, loud and fast were still very much the rule and the norm. In 1993, folk, bluegrass and alt. country had yet to come in to vogue. What’s the most punk thing you can do, when everyone’s cranked to eleven, speakers blown, eardrums bleeding? Strip it all the way down to the essence. One voice, one guitar. Simple and beautiful. Ultimately, punk as fuck.
by Brook Pridemore