Somnambule - Writing About Music

Sweet Billy Pilgrim ~ Stars Spill Out Of Cups (EP)

If the name Sweet Billy Pilgrim is at all familiar, it may be that you own a copy of David Sylvian’s recent album, The Good Son vs The Only Daughter to which the group contributed a rather lovely remix. Let’s posit a quick theory (bound to be disproved) that where successful popular music is concerned it’s the particular angle of approach to subject matter, be it musical or lyrical, that’s crucial. A lifetime’s career may be built upon an original, convincing viewpoint. Stars Spill Out Of Cups, the first of three tracks on this 15 minute single suggests that they might be one of those relatively rare bands capable of achieving this. The music sets off at a tangent with off-kilter banjo accompanied by the pitter-patter of brushed drums, while the singer’s wavering voice pleads with his listeners, straining gently at the edges of possibility. There’s a streak of emotional nakedness married to a fairytale folksong feeling that’s original and mightily attractive. At the arrival of each chorus the gently nervy vocals succumb, with a rising swoop that gladdens the heart, to an almost unguarded joyfulness.

The singularity of this first song dissipates a little with its successor. God In Details is borne along on methodical carny guitar redolent of Rain Dogs-era Tom Waits. Even here though, in its latter third the music takes an unexpected turn towards mournful reflection, as if to say ‘this way fellas, let’s see where it takes us’. Misapplied, such an approach can be self-indulgent, but used sparingly as it is here, it can hint at a more expansive vision, create a wider sense of possibility than might otherwise be implied by a more cohesive whole. The final song, Atlantis, is a slight, gentle piece that that has to be played repeatedly to gain its focus. If Sweet Billy Pilgrim can play to their singularities, treat their music as a set of opportunities like Picasso’s cardboard and string guitar, rather than a granite block repeatedly chiselled away to reveal something less, then they have a chance of finding their individual voice, contributing something original to the sea of sound lapping at our doors.
Colin Buttimer
February 2005
Published by Milkfactory