Credit: Jonah Freeman & Justin Lowe
by Andrew Bosma Ledger Line Music

Matt Sweeney & Bonnie “Prince” Billy | Superwolves

May 13, 2021

Superwolves once again brings together two seasoned musicians for a lonesome, but fruitful collaboration.

Superwolves is the convergence of two massively prolific careers, 16 years since their first collaboration, culminating in a rich soundscape. Neither Matt Sweeney nor Will Oldham (the latter known best in the music world by his stage name, Bonnie “Prince” Billy) are strangers to collaboration, and this is clear in the record’s beautiful interweaving melodies. Sweeney is as known for his popular guitar stylings, while Oldham is known for his fragile folk-adjacent voice, but regardless of one’s familiarity with the artists’ previous output, the album’s odd and sometimes surreal lyrics can draw anyone in.

The album opens with the track “Make Worry For Me”, a grungy song that references the shadowy music business (“I affiliate with beats and notes / Mysterious figures in long feather coats”). “God Is Waiting” takes a softer tone with rolling guitar licks as a man describes a woman waiting for God for what feels like an eternity (“Her teeth grow long, and breath, it slows”).  This is not the only direct religious reference on the record, with “Shorty’s Ark” referencing the story of Noah’s ark. This is mainly a vehicle through which to name animals, though the song also seems to make reference to an unspecified, long-lasting relationship, its deeper context only hinted at through proximity and shared values (“When the rains come, we’ll be there to sing them in the sky / Make constellations with our song, together you and I”). The album also features rising star Mdou Moctar on multiple tracks, adding his fast African guitar stylings to the mix.  These rolling guitar licks are a pleasant contrast with the rhythmic nature of Sweeney’s playing and add an entrancing texture to a previously familiar sound.

In this collaboration, there’s a clear fear of loneliness, whether it be not wanting to be left behind on the ark, or more explicitly on the morose “There Must Be a Someone,” with the narrator lacking even platonic relationships (“All my so-called friends have turned their backs on me / They were looking for something I just couldn’t be…There must be a someone I can turn to”).  It’s in this we hear the Americana roots that both artists come from.  It seems important to note that these songs about loneliness are produced on a collaborative record. It gives a feeling that there’s a shared commiseration between the two artists, and through that relationship there can be healing.  The album closes with “Not Fooling” a song almost reveling in the loneliness as an act of triumph rather than defeat (“I show you how small your world is / And it doesn’t matter / It grows ever smaller”). It is a fitting end for this album of harsh realities and tight harmonies. One of the best albums of the year, Superwolves is a rare, but fruitful collaboration between two artists, indicating, perhaps, that there will always be more to come.

Published as part of Album Roundup — April 2021 | Part 1.