Bill Mackay - Locust Land


Rolling and tumbling in his own sweet way, guitarist Bill MacKay discovers a territory all his own: Locust Land. New vistas abound: Bill adds a measure of keyboard playing to his picking mastery, sings a few more, and, a devout and ceaseless collaborator, features a few other players (Sam Wagster, Mikel Patrick Avery and Janet Beveridge Bean). Whether played solo or with companions, Bill’s music projects the strength of the universal collective.

Bill MacKay and Drag City are delirious with pride to announce the discovery of a new territory: Locust Land, a record which seeks to reflect the nerve-shredding consciousness run amok in our world today — and somehow allay it with sound. Bill’s music is a visceral crackling where it meets the air, and Locust Land can’t help but reflect its era more than any other in his discography.

It’s been five years since the release of Fountain Fire — but in the interim, Bill has barely stopped moving, collaborating with artists across the spectrum, including cellist Katinka Kleijn, banjo player Nathan Bowles and keyboardist Cooper Crain. He’s also contributed to recordings by Steve Gunn, Ryley Walker, Bill Callahan & Bonnie Prince Billy (Blind Date Party), and Black Duck (on their self-titled record featuring Douglas McCombs and Charles Rumback). Forget five years — how’d he even get Locust Land squeezed out of his temporal lobes?

Bill’s sense of music as art is constantly modulating — lifting off from where it is found and naturally migrating to some other place. Sometimes, that’s elsewhere — others, it’s simply to be found deeper inside the starting point. And so, the action of moving on informs the landscape of Locust Land. This manifests in several different ways.

A restless energy and urgency is repeatedly felt — in the driving momentum of “Keeping in Time,” “Glow Drift,” and “When I Was Here” — while a dogged persistence radiates from the tone colors and percussion of “Oh, Pearl.” Mating a dirge-like desolation with sparkling guitars,“Radiator” adds darkness and depth. The sense of searching, displacement and longing in vocal tracks “Keeping in Time,” “Half of You,” and “When I Was Here” speak literally to the tumult of current vibrations.

Within the arrangements, there’s also departure from previous norms — in addition to the brilliant guitar work for which he is known, Bill plays a variety of keyboards, from piano to organ to synth, extending his music with the available voicings, while enriching the sound field without abandoning his signature brevity. For fans of his singing, and following in the recent tradition of Fountain Fire as well as his collaboration with Nathan Bowles, Keys, Locust Land expresses with an increased vocal presence — and heightened engagement, with Bill’s words and melodies drawing us closer.

Also different: on his previous solo recordings, Bill played every sound. Here, he has invited other illustrious Chicagoans to join him: Sam Wagster (The Father Costume, Mute Duo) plays bass on three songs, two of which feature the percussion playing of Mikel Patrick Avery (Natural Information Society, Jeff Parker, etc.). Additionally, Janet Beveridge Bean (Eleventh Dream Day, Freakwater) adds otherworldly vocal textures to the elegiac “Neil’s Field.” Whether played alone or with companions, this music projects the strength of a universal collective.

Even with a piece that might earlier have passed for blissful pastorale, Bill displays some declamatory motives. The reverie which opens the album, “Phantasmic Fairy,” embodies both transcendent and desperate moods, with Bill’s ineffable slide guitar playing afloat, with organs and synths, in a dream state suffused with a sense of foreboding — a requiem, perhaps for the days of unencumbered bandwidth? On the other side of the album, the strength to continue to hope appears in the lifting melodicism/exoticism of the album-closing title track, leaving the listener with the sense of having achieved a hard-won space — a place of personal contemplation and dissent, one that everyone on the planet deserves to visit every single day on earth.

With cover art also by Bill MacKay (the third of his albums on Drag City to feature his work), Locust Land stands as a thoroughly personal statement from Bill to everyone everywhere.


Phantasmic Fairy
Keeping In Time
Glow Drift
Half of You
Oh Pearl
When I Was Here
Neil’s Field
Locust Land

Release Info

Release Date: 24th May 2024
Format: LP, Tape
Label: Drag City

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