by / April 14th, 2009 /

Bill Callahan – Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle

 3/5 Rating

(Drag City)

The artist formerly known as Smog returns with another collection of sonorous, sombre ballads, which perfectly showcase both his stellar songwriting and funereal drawl. Callahan certainly hasn’t torn up the blueprint that served him so well on his previous 12 albums, 11 of which appeared under the Smog moniker.

Tracks like opener -Jim Cain’, the eastern-tinged -The Wind And The Dove’, the unsettling -All Thoughts Are Prey To Some Beast’ and the confessional -Rococo Zephyr’ are business as usual for Callahan. His voice retains the same laid-back, filterless smoky timbre as ever, albeit this time it’s backed up by a warmer, more fleshed-out sound than most of his back catalogue, even incorporating sweeping strings into proceedings on occasion.

That said, the jazz-inflected -Eid Ma Clack Show’ [no, we’ve no idea either] is practically raucous by Callahan standards, augmented by a funky bassline and some fizzing strings, with Callahan raising himself above his usual bass (g)rumble. It’s also probably the finest song he has ever penned, quite an accolade for this most prolific of writers: ‘Love is the king of the beasts/ And when it gets hungry, it must kill to eat’.

Less successful is yawnsome simplicity of -My Friend’, the pointless instrumental -Invocation Of Ratiocination’ and the epic, almost 10-minute final track, -Faith/Void’. Ostensibly a meditation on whether there is still a place for religion in the 21st century, with its oft-repeated mantra, ‘It’s time to put god away’, it outstays its welcome a good five minutes before the final chord and is a disappointing end to an otherwise impressive collection.

One minor point: in order to discourage uploading of this album, someone saw fit to include a severely irritating beeping car sound into every song, which is not only jarringly obtrusive beyond belief but threatens to tip this most eloquent of albums into comedy territory. For shame. Thankfully, the official release will have none of this nonsense, allowing the listener to wallow properly in the Maryland native’s melancholy musical mood.

Listen: Spotify | Bandcamp | Soundcloud | Youtube

  • RE – the ‘beeping’ sound mentioned. Yes, it is irritating in the extreme when review copies come with these anti-uploading ‘spoiling’ noises. It’s maddening in fact, not to mention counter-productive – certainly makes me somewhat less than well-disposed towards the artist being reviewed. I know it’s probably the fault of some record company goon and not the artist themselves, but it is *massively* annoying.