Two weeks ago, after more than two months' impatience with the challenge of obtaining overseas music through U.S. of A.-merican retail channels, I at long last received my copy of Sweet Billy Pilgrim's "we just did what happened and no one came." [That link leads to Amazon.com, from which I acquired my copy; as of this posting date, they claim to have a few more copies in stock, so perhaps your wait will not be so long as mine if you act, as you should, quickly to acquire this CD.]
I first wrote about Sweet Billy Pilgrim's music last May, here, and my enthusiasm has not subsided. The challenge is to find something not already said better by someone else that will convey the special appeal of this CD. Let me, then, associate freely and we shall see what comes out:
This is music from a rainy country where the sun, on those occasions when it gets through the thick low clouds, sends down a clean-scrubbed clear-edged slanting light out of Vermeer. Water appears and recurs, usually as an enveloping and comforting presence. Meaning and salvation of one kind or another are always at stake. A pastoral soul journeys in a post-pastoral world, singing to himself as he goes.
Of the nine songs on the album, I was already familiar with five. Four ("Stars Spill Out of Cups," "No Jesus in Here," "God in the Details" and "Experience") have been pretty freely available online over the past year, and were mentioned in my earlier post. [You can still stream or download them via the band's Official Site -- which also offers the wonderful non-album track "Forget to Breathe" -- or via the band's weblog, "Pilgrim's Progress", or via the band's MySpace page, or attached to Alan Williamson's very favorable review at *Sixeyes.] The fifth, "Atlantis," previously appeared on the "Stars Spill Out of Cups" EP but for some reason, although it is the same recording of the same song, it sounds better, more "right," as the first track on the album than it did as the closer on the EP.
All four of the newer songs are very good, and three of them are better than that. My favorite of the moment is unquestionably "In the Water I Am Beautiful," which is, in some sense, its own remix: the sonic atmosphere is completely different each time the title/chorus returns. The song even includes a crunchy arena-rocky electric guitar solo . . . lasting all of three seconds.
The influences of the Eno-Fripp-Nelson-Sylvian school of atmospheric production are apparent, but never by way of obvious imitation: we've heard some of these sound combinations before, but it may have been in a dream. Tim Elsenburg's plaintive tenor is sometimes front and center, sometimes heard as if by accident. Sounds are placed around it as if they fell out of an interesting cupboard, or else with the deliberation of a rock garden in Xanadu.
[Tim's remixing and production skills are on display at his separate "williampilgrim" MySpace page -- which features a streaming version of the Sweet Billy Pilgrim remix of David Sylvian's "Heart Knows Better" -- and he somewhat explains the essence of the Sweet Billy project in the interview linked in this recent post, which reveals (and I can't say I'm surprised) the formative effects of inter alia 1970s Beach Boys and David Bowie's "Sons of the Silent Age."]
So yes, SBP really is as good as various persons of discerning taste have declared it to be and as yet underdiscovered. Be the first on your block to join the pilgrimage.