Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Nathan Salsburg, Tyler Trotter: Hear The Children Sing & The Evidence Review

Hardcore lullabies from Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and friends.

Bonnie Prince Billy, Nathan Salsburg and Tyler Trotter

by John Mulvey |
Updated on

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Nathan Salsburg, Tyler Trotter

Hear The Children Sing & The Evidence



WHEN WE sing to our children, are we trying to soothe them towards sleep, or embedding our excellent musical taste in their minds? Maybe a bit of both, as the creative parent can make a workable lullaby out of the unlikeliest source material. Take Nathan Salsburg, the Louisville guitarist and folklorist, who as a new father would sit in a rocking chair with his guitar held in one arm and his infant daughter Talya in another. His favoured song was, of all things, The Evidence by Lungfish, a gnarly band from Baltimore whose music from the 1990s and early 2000s could usefully be described as shamanic post-hardcore. The Evidence first appeared on Lungfish’s fourth album, Pass And Stow(1994), close to a tune not obviously aimed at kids called In Praise Of Amoral Phenomena.

Daniel Higgs, the frontman of Lungfish, has the demeanour of a cult leader and tends to sing as if he’s casting a spell. It’s an imperative adopted here by Salsburg’s neighbour Will ‘Bonnie “Prince” Billy’ Oldham, as he magnifies the incantatory power of The Evidence by stretching it on and on for 21 minutes. Salsburg plays guitar. Tyler Trotter – another Louisville resident, from the Slint-affiliated band Watter – adds drum machines and synths. Then they take another Lungfish song, 2003’s Hear The Children Sing, and make that one last another 20 minutes. It ends with Talya Salsburg and Oldham’s daughter Poppy joining in on the refrain: “Oh the devil is a flower/Plucked from a cloud.”

Weird record, then, even by the sometimes esoteric standards of Salsburg and Oldham. But one of the many magical things about Hear The Children Sing & The Evidence is how underground punk can be alchemised by two musicians usually associated with folk traditions, and transformed into a mantric sound much harder to categorise. As he gets older and his voice becomes ever more controlled and nuanced, Oldham is rather good at this sort of thing; the key antecedent is probably Epic Jammers And Fortunate Little Ditties, his 2016 album with Chicagoan New Age synthesists Bitchin Bajas, where his lyrics were constructed entirely from the messages contained in fortune cookies. Salsburg, meanwhile, has been investigating the hypnotic potential of his music on his Landwerks series of releases, where he loops samples from his extensive 78s collection and plays along to them on electric guitar. Hear The Children Sing, in particular, sounds like a gorgeous extrapolation of that strategy, with Salsburg’s guitar lines rippling around a banjo played by another Watter member, Zak Riles.

The steady repetitions, the tiny incremental shifts, the generally enchanted air that pervades all 41 minutes of Hear The Children Sing & The Evidence, can lull adults as well as children into a fugue state. But there’s a lot to learn from it, too: how strange, niche music can charm unexpected audiences; how Oldham and Salsburg can continue to evolve and surprise in their work; how families can make lasting bonds over songs that transcend obvious meaning. The Evidence and Hear The Children Sing are probably lodged in Talya Salsburg and Poppy Oldham’s subconsciouses for life now. Give this beautiful record of uncanny domesticity a few listens, and they may well take up residence in yours, too.

Hear The Children Sing & The Evidence is out now on No Quarter.

Listen/Buy: Spotify | Apple Music | Amazon | Rough Trade | HMV

Photo: Aron Conaway

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