My biggest problem with Bill Callahan is just the wild inconsistency from track to track. (I understand that this is why some people like him.) This is only my second Smog album, and this record is arguably just as inconsistent as the other one – full of ideas, many of which are half-baked (third-baked? quarter baked?) and only like 3 or 4 of which feel like finished songs.
Callahan has a good sense of melody, which he sometimes disguises by making some aspect of the recording unpleasant, which is hallmark of the whole lo if/bedroom movement. (I feel like there’s less of that going on here, though.) If you like that, good for you. I don’t particularly. (Unless it’s metal, or something like that.)
He writes provocative lyrics. I don’t know whether that means he’s a good lyricist, but I will say at least the lyrics here often feel more fully formed than the last record. He still sometimes feels lazy, though. The most problematic thing here seems to exist just because he figures the lines are going to make some people really mad (or maybe make them laugh) but there’s not much to the actual song. As someone else noted, he doesn’t fully commit to the joke (if it’s a joke…) and it just feels like a provocation, not an actual song. (I’m talking about “Be Hit” of course.)
From memory, this is less lo fi than the previous album, which is to its credit. But it still feels like he needs an editor, like so many of these guys who just puke out music into the world, with seemingly very little thought about albums. (It so often feels like they just release everything they’ve ever recorded. I know that’s not true, but it feels that way to me. I dread outtakes from artists like Smog.) Actually, instead of an editor, this one sort of begs for a collaborator, a collaborator to finish like 2/3rds of these tracks. I don’t mean the guest musicians, I mean a songwriter, or a producer who was stricter with him.
I get it, the appeal is in the aesthetic and if he finished writing his songs that would possibly go away. But I’m pretty sure Smog is not for me. At least this version of him, which is supposedly considerably more lo fi than his later records.