Bitchin Bajas & Bonnie “Prince” Billy
Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties
Bitchin Bajas & Bonnie “Prince” Billy = Pauline Oliveros + Galaxie 500
Let me break down the facade of verbiage and give it to you straight: I am not particularly fond of this album. Reviewing Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties, the excessive effort from sound-smiths Bitchin Bajas and singer-songwriter Bonnie “Prince” Billy, has proven to be an assignment most taxing—an irreconcilable ramification given the album’s tantric tones. Although the endurance is slightly rewarded—the only real “jammer” or “ditty” is found at the end of the record in the aptly-titled “Your Hard Work Is About To Pay Off. Keep On Keeping On”–the unprecedented collaboration between the Drag City labelmates simply amounts to a labor of exhaustive experimentation: one that gongs perpetually, self-assures repeatedly and attempts to boost those serotonin levels.
Beginning like a Stan Brakhage dream sequence with “May Life Throw You a Pleasant Curve,” Jammers and Ditties stays in the clouds for its remaining 56 minutes–all the while implementing Jethro Tull-like reeds, Pink Floyd-like arcs (“Show Your Love and Your Love Will Be Returned”) and clanking chimes fit for a city garden (“Nature Makes Us For Ourselves”). Bajas founder Cooper Crain creates a soundscape both abundant and nuanced; the coda of the sweeping “Your Whole Family Are Well” wails with sirens, casting a pall of doubt over the proclaimed well-being of kin. However textural, the tracks quickly dissipate—either into thin air, themselves, or each other—suggesting an execution that, while earnest, is wanting. Coupled with Billy’s vocal minimalism, there is very little left to retain.
Bajas & Billy make one thing certain: They do what they want to do. In all of their soul-searching and posi-psychedelia, the artists are hypo-aware, if not negligent, of what is widely acceptable and marketable in the confines of their field. It is admittedly endearing, like a child marking a busy highway with colored chalk. Billy, in mantric hums, recites the titular proverbs (“You Will Soon Discover How Truly Fortunate You Really Are,” “Your Heart Is Pure, Your Mind Is Clear and Your Soul Is Devout”) as if to attain enlightenment; he channels, an albeit tedious, Jim Morrison. Bajas, meanwhile, utilize synthesizers and bells as modes of meditation, looping strains and chords into trancelike incantations. Refraining from the average hook, and even a simple melody, subsequently renders the album environmentally and circumstantially dependent: It probably listens best while on a vagrant’s retreat or holding pose in Sun Salutation.
With Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties, Bajas & Billy join the ranks of audial odd couples: Lou Reed & Metallica, Al Green & Annie Lennox, Elton John & Eminem. In their case, the result is unbalanced. While the Bajas, though more dulcet, are somehow amplified by Billy’s providential drones, Billy himself gets lost–and unfortunately, his prose goes with him.
It is true that I am not especially fond of this album and that reviewing it has proven to be taxing–but what the hell do I know? I also cut my teeth on Def Leppard, own Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat on vinyl and cry when I listen to “Jumper” by Third Eye Blind. There is no accounting for one’s taste, only a tacit acknowledgment that it may not be shared. For every person like me who actually feels despair while listening to “Despair Is Criminal,” there is another, probably better, person whose spirit the same song uplifts. Which person are you? Find out for yourself. –Cassidy McCraney