“I feel something coming on/ A disease or a song,” sings Bill Callahan during the gorgeous Everyway – a song that is like a warm blanket to combat the impending cold months ahead; however this isn’t autumnal Bill Callahan: this is dream-state Bill (“We warmed our hands in a wild corpse“). That acid wit fleeting but once again prevalent throughout his latest album, YTI⅃AƎЯ.
The world of Bill Callahan feels like one of solace. Sparse, woodsy, earthy, Callahan has spent a career unveiling stories like adventure novels.
Finding his voice from the off, whether it be through Smog or under his own name, Callahan has cleaved into the consciousness of his listeners via a pervasive dry humour adopted from the forefathers of country music. Never pastiche and always distinctively Bill Callahan, this time through the tales of Bowevil and later with the hushed lament of Horses, he captures the imagery of vast open lands.
There are many guises Callahan unveils on YTI⅃AƎЯ. And as the title suggests, all of them real. The kind of songwriter who’s always flowed with the times, Callahan has never been one to chase past glories. Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest a perfect case in point; a new dawn, with many of the songs throughout inspired by the birth of Callahan’s son.
And while the follow-up, Gold Record, was a far more concise affair which offered mixed results, YTI⅃AƎЯ feels like all the finest Bill Callahan hallmarks stationed under one roof.
Callahan spoke of the basics being an inspiration behind YTI⅃AƎЯ. “The biggest things!” he claimed. “And it just takes a little nudge to get your head back on track. I wanted sounds and words that made you feel and that lifted you up. But first there was a need to bond, to clear the air. Or to just acknowledge the air.”
Penultimate track, Planets, is a song seemingly inspired by not getting caught up in the everyday intricacies of modern day life. Sitting back and admiring the best things, which (you guessed it), are free. “Listening to this record takes one hour.” said Callahan, in the lead-up to the release of YTI⅃AƎЯ, “Ah [sic] hour sounds like a year to me these days. Taking an hour of someone’s life. I fault the internet. I fault ourselves for falling for the internet. An hour is actually lovely, nothing, a lifetime. You have to live that lifetime though in order to appreciate the hour.”
This is why some may consider Callahan a throwback. Debatable of course, but there is little doubt that Callahan is the voice of the leveller, his music feeling more important now than ever in a bid to maintain some of the past with the present.
Joined by frequent collaborator Matt Kinsey (guitar), Emmett Kelly (bass/backing vocals), Sarah Ann Phillips (piano/backing vocals), and Jim White (drums), Callahan’s voice, like molasses laced with honey, drifts through the speakers for the first time with First Bird. “And where coming out of dream/ As we’re coming back to dreams” he sings during this lightly dusted acoustic number that eases us into YTI⅃AƎЯ.
White’s soft bedding of percussion paves the way on Partition, as Callahan parts with sound bites of a true original. (“Mediate, ventilate, do what you go to do/Micro dose, change of clothes, do what you got to do/ To touch the picture.”). The kind of blithe parting a prolific author couldn’t conjure up.
Quite the contrast to Lily. A wistful journey that stands as one of Callahan’s most diaristic songs yet. (“I started writing your death song before you were gone.” and “You showed me middle C/And how you wept inside/Crying like a cold apple cries.”) Again, this is Callahan moving with the times with a song he wouldn’t have dreamt of writing 20 years ago.
The shedding of skins continues on the wholesome Naked Souls, as Callahan looks straight down the lens into the future (“Maybe he’ll become a policeman / Or kill one”. It’s the kind question upon question that the greats have always dispensed. The kind of fleeting wit that if you blink, you’ll miss it.
So too on Last One At the Party. “We’d thought he’d never leave,” jokes Callahan in a situation that is two-fold. Self-deprecation masquerading a fuck you to those that can’t sit still for five minutes during a song let alone an album. It’s a beautiful end.
The same truth can be found in in triumphant numbers, Coyote and Drainface. Shining beacons of YTI⅃AƎЯ, these songs encapsulate Callahan’s finest qualities as a songwriter. Rich Bill. Breezy Bill. Homely Bill. Effortless Bill. Wild Bill.
It all equates to quintessential Bill, and whichever way you slice it, that’s what YTI⅃AƎЯ is.
YTI⅃AƎЯ is out Friday via Drag City. Purchase from Bandcamp.