May 21, 2005
I've finished my war book now. The next one I write is going to be fun.
This one is a failure, and had to be, since it was written by a pillar of salt. It begins like this:
Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.
It ends like this:
-- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Slaughterhouse-Five, Chapter One
I bought an iPod Shuffle back in February. This was when the Shuffle had first come on the market, and there was a backlog of orders at Apple, so the process was stretched out over a period of weeks. First, the docking attachment arrived. A week or two later, the sturdy sports case. March came in like a lion. And after a delay near unendurable, I beheld my very own cute little Shuffle. I am become most fond of it since it came into my clutches.
Mind you, the occasions I have to use it are limited. I don't use it during the working day, though it has been seen plugged into my ears at the office on a Saturday. I can't use the earbuds in the car, per an entirely sensible provision of the California Vehicle Code. (Especially in Southern California, you wouldn't want a headset to interfere with your hearing the approaching sirens of a high-speed police pursuit.) There is usually something else going on of an evening. So, most often, I fire up my Shuffle as many others do: while working out at the gym.
I don't know what anyone else is listening to while they sweat, but I expect most of it has the sort of thumping insistence one associates with, oh I don't know, the soundtracks of advertisements for gyms. I would have expected that sort of thing to be entering my own ears as well, but my Shuffle has driven my tastes in a different direction. The aural world into which an iPod draws its user is so self-contained that I have drifted toward a combination of ambient electronica and earnest, intimate, acoustic-guitar-based neo-traditional psych-folk-country-alt tunes. If you know what I mean. All of these roads, and more, meet in the band who call themselves Sweet Billy Pilgrim.
Sweet Billy first came to my attention through this post at The Stypod on the subject of longish (6 minutes-plus) songs, holding up the band's "Stars Spill Out of Cups" as a good example of a song that puts that length to good use. "Stars Spill Out of Cups" is no longer downloadable, so far as I know, but a streaming too-short sample can be found here. The plinky haunted banjos of the sample eventually give way to a sort of pilgrims' chorus backed by sustained Robert Fripp-ish guitars before wandering moodily back into the mist amid tinkling xylophones. Wonderful stuff. It is available for purchase on a 3-song CD (£3, plus shipping) from the band's site here.
There is no Sweet Billy Pilgrim album yet, though such a thing is apparently planned for later this year. Several full-length examples of the band's work are freely and lawfully downloadable here. I recommend all four: "Ain't No Jesus In Here" has the most straightforward surface, although it sounds as though it was recorded in a country-western bar somewhere beyond Andromeda; the pensive "Experience" is my personal favorite of the group, though my loyalties could easily shift to any of the others on a whim; "God in the Details" is an angular waltz in a style crossing Kurt Weill with a demented music box; and "Forget to Breathe," which will not appear on the eventual album, features one of the best string arrangements I've run across lately, spiced with a judicious dollop of feedback.
An entry at the wonderfully named Spoilt Victorian Child weblog provides the only clear description I have found of who and what comprises the Sweet Billy Pilgrim entity. The band also maintains its own weblog, Pilgrim's Progress, where they have occasionally (and temporarily) posted examples of music that they particularly like and/or have been influenced by, ranging from Fred Frith to David Sylvian to Ralph Vaughn Williams.