Monday, April 16, 2007

Preview: Bill Callahan, Woke Up On A Whaleheart

Download: Bill Callahan - Sycamore
Download: Bill Callahan - Diamond Dancer
Download: Bill Callahan - Honeymoon Child

Austin, TX, native Bill Callahan has been recording and releasing albums for Chicago's Drag City (under the moniker Smog) for the better part of 15 years. Though Callahan/Smog started out making highly experimental, mostly instrumental, low-fi records that featured songs with a freeform melodic structure, he has slowly (and very surely) grown more professional sounding, with the instrumentation on his albums becoming increasingly more diverse. He has recorded with the likes of Jim O'Rourke (Sonic Youth, Wilco) and with members of Chicago post-rock legends Tortoise.

A week from tomorrow (4/24/07), Callahan releases his newest studio album, and the first bearing his given name, Woke Up on a Whaleheart. I have been able to find a few MP3 files floating around on the internet and have posted them above. All three tracks are excellent, and you should give them a listen. "Diamond Dancer" has got a rock-steady, almost disco, beat, a slinky violin line, soulful backup vocals, acoustic guitar and harpischord. It is arguably the most verse-chorus-verse-y of the three. "Honeymoon Child" has a similiar, but slightly more driven, midtempo beat that emphasizes the one in the same fashion as "Dancer" does. However, the instrumentation is simpler - the focus point on "Child" is more on the kind of snappy, trebly guitar line that appears in most of the songs featured in Quentin Tarantino movies. A smooth bass line, Callahan's used-to-be-sardonic-but-is-now-gentle croon, and a bed of strings - orchestral and pedal - are also worth noting. In a strange way, "Honeymoon Child" sounds like Leonard Cohen writing a song after listening to hours of Dire Straits.

But the real gem here is "Sycamore," which marries the sweet guitar arpeggios of Big Star with Callahan's trademark deadpan vocals, lyrics which lean heavily on nature and religion, and a folk-derived main chord progression. It's seriously amazing, and will more likely than not become your new favorite song.

As I mentioned before, Woke Up on a Whaleheart comes out next Tuesday, April 24th. Pick it up at your locally owned record store, or order it directly from Drag City.

(Jonathan Graef)

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