Tuesday, December 04, 2007
After a decade as one of indie rock's most consistent, versatile artists, Smog's ninth album catalogs the sounds and emotions that Bill Callahan explored on previous albums. Dongs of Sevotion borrows Wild Love's chamber rock arrangements, Red Apple Falls' droning folk, The Doctor Came at Dawn's painful honesty, Knock Knock's sardonic humor, and even nods to Burning Kingdom's album artwork. While these eclectic influences could have had scattered results, Dongs of Sevotion is remarkably spare and focused; over half the album is just Callahan on vocals and guitar and/or piano, with Tortoise's John McEntire on drums. Not surprisingly, the starker songs are the most lyrically loaded. On the coming-of-age ballad "Nineteen," Callahan laments, "My movements were slow/She didn't even know/What she was taking away," and on "Devotion," he notes, "There are some terrible gossips in this town/With jaws like vices and eyes like drains." "Easily Led" and "Distance" are musically and emotionally similar, tending to blend together in the middle of the album. However, Dongs begins with "Justice Aversion," a survival-of-the-fittest tale set to icy, detached synths, and "Dress Sexy at My Funeral," a warm, sensual recounting of a man's final wishes: "Tell them about the time we did it with fireworks above us" -- a one-two punch that captures the album's range. "Bloodflow" mixes a Jew's harp, cheerleaders (the "Dongettes," natch), and a galloping beat, and rhymes "tete-a-tete" with "machete," distilling the album's twists and turns. But Callahan saves the best for last: "Permanent Smile" a song of devotion that, with its echoing drums and rippling piano loop, sounds like a collaboration between Phil Spector and Philip Glass. It's this reverence and irreverence that makes Smog so enduring, and Dongs of Sevotion another strong album.