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A Magazine for Sheffield

Pond Scum

A dozen previously unreleased recordings from John Peel's radio sessions, stripped down to mostly just a guitar and a voice, here and there sparsely accompanied by David Heumann, this album reveals a treasure. Pond Scum provides an insight into the career of an artist who has always been marked underground and whose excellent and tantalising interjections into alternative country, punk and Appalachian song traditions have completed the coeval music morgue. Sequential verses ceaselessly distend the folk ballad. In '(I Was Drunk At The) Pulpit', it only takes one chord.
It's a selection from several Peel sessions dating back as far as the early 90s, when Will Oldham was still performing under the names Palace Music, Palace Brothers, Palace Songs or simply Palace. Blessedly this album isn’t just a mandate for die-hards, but very much a tender offering for the connoisseur of honesty and the quest for meaning, musically speaking. It is staggeringly congruous and almost oppressively intimate.

The recordings transmit Oldham’s typically croaky voice and a performance that feels somewhat more relaxed than his studio albums at that time. They seem to line up quite naturally with his more recent albums.

The album title and the artwork, however, subtly suggest the record’s peculiarity and - put in context with previous cover pictures showing a path to the sea - bear the self-deprecating ambiguity of the lyrical shunts, whereby Oldham thankfully sends us into transports of delight.

Thomas Lebioda