Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, The National's Bryce Dessner & Eighth Blackbird Are Collaborating on New Album

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Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, The National's Bryce Dessner & Eighth Blackbird Are Collaborating on New Album

Alt-country legend Will Oldham (also known variously as Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy or The Palace Brothers) is no stranger to artistic collaboration. He’s cut vinyl with The Cairo Gang, Tortoise and the Bitchin Bajas, among many, many others. That’s not even mentioning all the cover albums Oldham enjoys putting out. And yet somehow, today’s left-field announcement of a Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, The National’s guitarist (and part-time classical composer) Bryce Dessner, and contemporary classical sextet Eighth Blackbird joint album is the most bizarre Oldham partnership yet.

It’s not like the signs weren’t there. Eighth Blackbird had commissioned a piece from Dessner, Murder Ballades, which was featured on their 2016 album Filaments and nabbed a Grammy for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble for their trouble. And if there’s someone who knows about the old folk tradition of murder ballads (think Mississippi John Hurt’s “Frankie”), it’s Oldham. The album, titled When We Are Inhuman, will include movements from the aforementioned Murder Ballades, as well as orchestral re-arrangements of Oldham’s ominous tunes and a cover of the late, great gay provocateur Julius Eastman’s “Stay On It.”

If you’re wondering what such a mix would sound like, The National’s streaming service, 37d03d, released a track from When We Are Inhuman onto YouTube ahead of the album’s Aug. 30 release. The song, “Beast For Thee,” is a recreation of the 2005 original, a tender love song from Oldham’s collaboration with Chavez’s Matt Sweeny, Superwolf. The recreation tears out the original’s comforting plucked guitars and smooth strings, and stuffs it instead with jarring polyrhythms, a prominent marimba and a scrappy, almost-out-of-tune violin. It adds a bit of magic and terror to a song that, after all, is about falling in love so deeply that you turn monstrous.

Listen to “Beast For Thee” below, check out a Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy Daytrotter performance further down, and don’t miss the album art and tracklist for When We Are Inhuman at the bottom.

When We Are Inhuman Album Art:


When We Are Inhuman Tracklist:
01. Stay on It
02. New Partner
03. Beast for Thee
04. Down in the Willow Garden
05. One with the Birds
06. Banks of Red Roses
07. Underneath the Floorboard
08. When Thy Song