Album: (Smog)

Supper, Domino

There's an air of stasis about the latest batch of songs from Bill Callahan (who is Smog), which lack the drive, focus, and most noticeably the beguiling tunes of those on earlier albums such as Knock Knock and Dongs of Sevotion. Several songs convey the sense that Callahan realises he's treading water, waiting for something to change, but not sure what form that change should take: "Butterflies Drowned in Wine", though fairly opaque, appears to be about confronting one's future, while "Vessel in Vain" offers the complementary view that one should not be bound by one's past mistakes and principles: "My ideals have got me on the run/ Towards my connection with everyone". But there's no hint of any clear future development here; this is an album trapped by the past, rehashing old themes and methods. The most welcome of these is the familiar deadpan humour, still in plentiful supply in droll reflections on desire and truth like "Morality" ("But hey/ What would my wife say/ If I was married?") and "Truth Serum", the latter featuring the most effective use of Callahan's vocal partner Sarabeth Tucek, responding to his fanciful suggestion that "Love is an object kept in an empty box" with the logical riposte, "How can something be in an empty box?" The settings range from the desultory alt.country of "Feather By Feather", where the whine of Ken Champion's pedal steel guitar lends fluidity to Callahan's characteristically hesitant semi-spoken vocals, to the ramshackle raunch-rock of "Morality" and "Butterflies Drowned in Wine", but the absence of an outside producer is starkly evident in the limpness of the arrangements.

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