Bill Callahan

(Drag City)


In The Philosophy of Composition Edgar Allen Poe stated the short story should be consumed within “the limit of a single sitting”. As per YTILAER’s press release, this “particular purpose” also informs the sequencing on Bill Callahan’s latest, and as Poe would have wanted, the introduction and conclusion bookend proceedings with distinction. 

Opener ‘First Bird’ dawns delightfully, lyrically blooming into odes to familial bliss; “Shadow of my boy coming down the hall / And little sister’s palm is deep in his hand / And her feet don’t ever touch the ground / Because everybody wants to carry her around”. Meanwhile the set’s swansong, ‘Last One At The Party’, is an insouciant character assassination, with “If you were a housefire / I’d run back in for the cat”, being one of its many gleeful putdowns.

Sitting in the middle of the LP ‘Naked Souls’ allows the record’s ensemble cast to whirl into a maelstrom, with horns swirling between the beats of Jim White’s loose yet processional drumming.

Between its first and last bars YTILAER indulges in many of the idiosyncrasies that make Bill Callahan such an engaging songwriter. Now some four decades into his recording career, the Drag City stalwart’s baritone has ripened into a mahogany croon, whilst his lines either float with pathos (as on ‘First Bird’ or ‘Coyotes’) or are deliciously wry. ‘Partition’ showcases the latter, as it looks askance at “the human condition”, likening us to no more than “big pigs in a pile of shit and bones”.

Elsewhere Drainface, with its description of “Eyes like retired hotel bedspreads / Done”, is imbibed with a pleasing nihilism that harks back to some of his earliest Smog cuts. The thrill of these darker impulses is reinforced against the cloying ‘Bowevil’ or the kitsch, and ultimately aimless, ‘Planets’. If YTILAER is a short story then these chapters are skippable, but for the most part here is an analog delight, richly deserving in an hour of your time.