November 30, 2023

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Bill Callahan: YTI⅃AƎЯ Album Review

It yearns for the essential, even before Callahan explicitly articulates that aim. “And the wooden nickel we took/In the divorce of rider and course/Was by the book,” he sings later on that song, getting at one of YTI⅃AƎЯ’s main themes: the alienation of man from nature, and how they might be reunited. Callahan’s proposition is more metaphysical than straightforward prelapsarianism—think How to Do Nothing with a laid-back groove. In “Partition,” Callahan denounces “big pigs in a pile of shit and bones” who think they can buy enlightenment, and over the course of its driving, vigorous incantation, he urges us to: “Microdose!/Change your clothes!/Do what you’ve got to do …. To see the picture.” He practically vibrates as he does so, leaving you invigorated to wage your own quest for the sublime, whatever it may be. Though he doesn’t always land the pitch: “Natural Information” is a fun theme song for the virtues of the innate, but it’s so chipper—almost unsettlingly so, for anyone steeped in the Smog years—that it nearly lands in the territory of “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke.”

Callahan tempers his roving third eye with a less sparing lens on figures who are closed off to that sort of possibility, perceiving it as near enough the root of all evil. “Naked Souls” offers a comic sketch of basement-dwellers and keyboard warriors repelled by humanity—wearing their “shades that say ‘F-U’”—but then drives them out in a stormy climax of raging horns and communal singing, a bulwark against isolationism. The cool “Drainface” flashes with anger, seething against the patriarchal forces that appointed the kind of god that avenged cuckolding Adam by making “birth painful”; “Bowevil,” Callahan’s take on a traditional about warding off a harvest-chomping pest, scans as a rebuke of racists and xenophobes, though its wry, rumbling burr is too reminiscent of Apocalypse’s more stirringly ambiguous “America!,” or Gold Record’s entertainingly horrified “Protest Song,” to add much more than a dash of comedy.

YTI⅃AƎЯ reaches Callahan’s aims to reawaken something primal in his listener at its most diffuse—when it’s less a broadcast and more of a wavelength. The lazily lovely “Coyotes” is a domestic scene and a whole allegory. Callahan surveys his family on the porch while roaming dogs linger in the periphery—a little threat licking the edges of his perfect scene. In his sleeping hound, he sees the softening of the wild. In his family, he recognizes the pack mentality shared between man and beast. The only reading that wins out is Callahan’s deep, palpable contentment at the lot of it: “Yes I am your loverman,” he insists happily, again and again. That line aside, the sentiments on YTI⅃AƎЯ are less direct and specific than Callahan’s most openhearted love songs, such as Dream River’s “Small Plane,” which some listeners may lament the lack of; the melodies, too, are less emotionally leading and immediately satisfying. You get the impression those songs aren’t in his wheelhouse anymore; that instead, Callahan’s purpose, in this vivid season of his career, is to divine more nuanced shades of happiness, try to act as a conduit to that kind of connection, and leave a gap for us to fill in. It suits him.

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Bill Callahan: YTI⅃AƎЯ

Bill Callahan: YTI⅃AƎЯ

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