Through the mist: (Smog) set to waft into the Rose
Supper, the latest CD from the parentheses-prone indie-rock group (Smog), does not offer immediate gratification. Unless you know what to expect from the group before pressing “play,” the first thing on Supper that will probably strike you is the voice of singer/songwriter (and really the only constant in the continuously rotating (Smog) lineup) Bill Callahan.
His strong tenor dominates the CD, and for at least some who’ve been raised on the high-flying vocalizations of groups like the Beatles, this element of (Smog)’s sound will stick out like the sorest of thumbs. You might have to put in some time with Supper– or another of the group’s previous 11 albums– before you get what Callahan is really going on about. But like many things in life, your patience will be rewarded.
Smog debuted in 1988 with Callahan’s self-released Macramé Gunplay cassette. A string of cassette-only releases followed, until the group signed with Chicago’s Drag City Records in 1991 and released the Floating EP.
1993’s Julius Caesar was the first album where things started to get a little more complicated than the group’s previous lo-fi releases. Thanks to collaborators– including über famous indie producer Jim O’Rourke– this album found Smog broadening their sonic and songwriting horizons. Albums followed once every year or so with (Smog) beginning to explore the world of acoustic space, and in 2001 Callahan changed the band name from Smog to (Smog), reportedly to place more emphasis on the group’s music.
On Supper, (Smog) shift things into a lower gear than most of their previous releases– there’s a reason their press attempts to puncture this balloon before it pops, with the classic line, “Supper will strike some of you as easy-listening (Smog)-– which is simply proof that you (Smog) fans out there have hardened over the years.”
But the group has traded some velocity for a fair number of heartbreakingly beautiful moments, which would sound perfect piping out of the car stereo as you drive down a country road, fresh from the sadness/excitement of a recent break-up, lost in your feelings and…
Supper begins with “Feather by Feather,” the opening lines of which (“You spend half the morning/Just trying to wake up/Half the evening/Just trying to calm down”) are pure poetry. Electric guitar and Callahan’s voice are shortly joined by soft steel guitar and some even softer drums, and then Sarabeth Tucek’s backup vocals make their presence known.
Peaceful would be the best way to describe this song, but (Smog) fans shouldn’t be too alarmed– track 2, “Butterflies Drowned in Wine”– starts the rockin’ off with a kick. This is one of the album’s highlights, where staccato guitar and nature-theme lyrics meet in a catchy and fairly accessible piece of music.
From there the album trades off slower and faster songs, with Callahan’s particular lyrical complexity (ex. “What would my wife say / If I was married”) showing itself in almost every line.
As this is sure to be one of Charlottesville’s biggest shows of the summer, and Tokyo Rose has a habit of selling out on the biggies, get to the show early. I’ll see you there.
(Smog) plays with Bottom of the Hudson at Tokyo Rose, July 31.