If you talk to any songwriter, they’d be sure to tell you that it’s always harder to write tunes to prewritten words. Yet, Nathan Salsburg and Bonnie “Prince” Billy adapted the stream of consciousness-like writing of Max Porter into songs so perfectly, you’d swear that the lyrics and the music were born from just a single mind.
Released on No Quarter Records on a single-sided LP with a decorative etching cut into the B-side, Three Feral Pieces has a crisp earthy vibe, courtesy of Billy and Salsburg’s dusty guitar work and guest Joan Shelley’s moody Wurlitzer playing. If there’s a better folk rock dream team committed to wax this year, then I’d like to hear them.
While each of the EP’s three tracks have a rustic and rural quality to them, the track “Orbit Song” really stands out due to its wobbly and distorted production. The tune sways with melancholic guitar and Billy’s multitracked harmony vocals which tremble feverishly with the help of some phasing effects. This psychedelic atmosphere is a perfect fit for the song’s rather surreal lyrics.
Despite the excellent performances captured here, the real hero of the album is Porter and his words. His pieces never lose any of their poetic strength and piercing originality. Salsburg and Billy do an exceedingly fine job at perfectly translating Porter’s work into a musical form, even accounting for the specific styles of physical structure and arrangement of lines on the page (which you can see on the included inserts). For example, “Here Song” features unusual line breaks and words shifted far to the left and right within the physical space. Billy sings these verses the way that the poem was meant to be read, with the correct pauses and gaps filled sometimes with long sustaining notes. Another example is the kind of chant that Billy employs to deliver the words of “Everything’s Fine,” which is arranged on the page as a list pushed together into a solid box of text. While listening to these songs, you truly get the feeling that the musicians lived in these poems for ages before they started performing them musically. That’s the major key of this record.
Pastoral, chilled and oftentimes dreamlike, Three Feral Pieces is an undeniably unique and singular release. Here’s hoping this unlikely supergroup can reunite in the future and produce even more material.
Get your copy from No Quarter here.