Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Today’s featured selection, chosen by Morning Show host John Richards, is “All Thoughts Are Prey To Some Beast” by Bill Callahan from his 2009 album Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle on Drag City.
It’s crazy to think that Bill Callahan put out his first Smog album nearly 20 years ago. To say that the records created during this span of time have had an impact on me would be an epically understated understatement. Over the years, Callahan’s prolific and meandering vision has provided me with the soundtrack to days both difficult joyous. Smog has always felt alive to me in its songs’ heartbreaking bitterness and disparity or blooming positivity and inspiration — there is a humanity to Callahan’s moodiness that is impossible to deny. It’s tough to imagine getting through some of life’s shittier moments without the support of The Doctor Came At Dawn (1996), Wild Love (1995), and Kicking a Couple Around (1996) crackling in the background. On the flipside, albums like 1999’s Knock Knock and Dongs of Sevotion (2000) are a testament to the simple beauty found just around life’s next corner (“B-L-double-oh-D-F-L-oh-W, BLOODFLOW! BLOODFLOW!”).
Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle, Bill Callahan’s second album since shedding the Smog moniker, is his most ambitious work to date. Populated with all of the Smog mainstays — acoustic guitar, piano, cello and of course Callahan’s amazing deadpan vocals — Eagle is tighter and more focused in its instrumentation than previous efforts. While some may question an apparent loss of rawness in his new work, Callahan is simply maturing as an artist. The bent unpredictibility of the past has given way to purposeful arrangements and elegance. Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle contains some of the most amazingly understated guitar work I’ve heard in, like, forever. Country infused acoustics lay atop stringed arrangements to create a comfortingly orchestral musical backdrop. Callahan’s lyrics are accessible, yet delicate and introspective, as evident in the opening song, “Jim Cain”:
I ended up in search of ordinary things
Like how can a wave possibly be?
I started running, and the concrete turned to sand
I started running, and things didn’t pan out as planned
Today’s Song of the Day, “All Thoughts Are Prey to Some Beast,” is an Eastern influenced, dramatic throwback of sorts to the grittiness of Smog’s earlier albums. Lurching drums build below Callahan’s baritone and hints of distortion that recall “When the Power Goes Out” (Julius Caesar, 1993). Just as the song appears to near full-blown explosion, strings bring ‘er back down to earth and remind us of just how far Mr. Callahan has come.
While Bill Callahan’s MySpace page isn’t entirely up to date, you can find his current tour dates on his Drag City profile page. There’s not a better place to see him in Seattle than at The Triple Door, where he’ll be on Saturday, June 27, with labelmates Bachelorette. For now, enjoy this amazing performance filmed by Austin’s KUT of Bill performing the Smog song “Vessel in Vain” atop Mt. Bonnell: