/domino; 2003/



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Why haven’t we decently reviewed one of the best albums released this year so late ??

The answer is simple my friends. First, our slack friend was supposed to write it because he is so much in love with Bill Callahan and with his depressing music. Then, when we came to grips with the fact that our slack friend wouldn’t do it, we entrusted our occasional collaborator Humphrey Maurice with the matter. We should have known better. Humphrey Maurice is more a slacker than our slack friend. He is behind with almost ten reviews but you might hear from him soon if he gets out of the sofa of his lethargy.

In my opinion, there are three periods in (Smog)’s music, each equally interesting: the lo-fi one that reaches its climax with the surly and sometimes mean JC, the acoustic one that culminates in The Doctor Came at Dawn whose outstanding title sums up the extremely doleful, if not gloomy, atmosphere. A third era started after the over-produced Dongs of Sevotion whose spoonerism still sounds like a mistake. This third period in Bill Callahan’s discography is quite difficult to categorize because he already has a personal universe and references to depict his song craft often turn out to be superfluous. It started with Rain on Lens which contains so much underlying tension that it becomes quite eerie and disturbing from time to time.

Supper is Rain on Lens's logical follower. Our Slack friend agreed with me and added that Supper is less tense than its predecessor which was almost oppressive. Indeed, Supper is more welcoming and relaxed, which does not necessarily means that it is better or worse than Rain on Lens. For those who are not familiar with Callahan’s last albums, I would venture into establishing a parallel between these two albums and Wild Love which had a special place in his discography. For those who have never listened to (Smog) at all, I would venture into comparing (Smog) with The Velvet Underground mid-tempo songs such as ‘Lady Godiva’s Operation’. ‘Butterflies Drowned in Wine’ and the marvellous double ‘Morality’ and ‘Ambition’ reminds of The Velvet because of the guitar lines à la Sterling Morrison, the vocals delivery close to Lou Reed (as well as on ‘Our Anniversary’) and Jim White’s basic drumming can easily make one think of Moe Tucker. However, if these songs reach an appealing Velvet-like quality, they first and foremost evoke prior (Smog) songs and atmospheres.

Let’s come back to this album which is more laid back than Rain on Lens. In the wonderful opener ‘Feather by Feather’, it might be because of the pedal steel which always introduces a bucolic aspect to songs (backed up by feminine backing vocals conveying a spring sensation) but the lyrics are a reminder of burdens: ‘You spend half of the morning just trying to calm down, half of the evening just trying to calm down / When they make the movie of your life they’re going to have to ask you to do your own stunts because nobody could pull off the same shit as you and still came out alright’. Cutting and touching lyrics are one of Callahan’s trademarks which just click because they are at once personal and universal I guess. His indolent way to utter lyrics conveys a dubious impression. Either it seems that he doesn’t really care and that after all, everything is just a mockery OR that he cares so much that it leads him to despair. Besides he is playing with this when he writes in the melancholy ‘Vessel in Vain’: ‘I can’t be held responsible for the things I say for I am just a vessel in vain…’, and contradicts himself in the wrongly optimistic ‘A Guiding Light’: ‘Who really wants to see things in blinding white?’ It is sometimes painful to be wrong but Callahan seems ready to confess his mistakes (‘I’ll be staying up into the night trying to prove wrong all the statements I made’). The quest for truth is a leitmotiv theme in Supper, which surely forebodes future thrilling songs.

Despite the little psychedelic sin ‘Driving’ which really sounds awkward, like a boat pitching ready to sink in this great album, Supper will surely appear in many indie fans' 2003 top ten.

I’ll leave you quoting Callahan: ‘You were born in the middle of the night, what better time for a guiding light ?’…


/sept 1st 2003/