Album Reviews

Bill Callahan – YTI⅃AƎЯ

(Drag City) UK release date: 14 October 2022

His third album in four years shows how the former Smog man continues to raise the bar creatively, delivering another sumptuous and rewarding listen

Bill Callahan - YTI⅃AƎЯ Over the course of his career Bill Callahan has sustained a remarkable level of consistency, rarely putting a foot wrong whether when making music under the Smog name or, as in more recent years, when releasing albums under his own name. This latter period has seen him make discreet variations with each release, but there have always been certain constants at play, most notably his alluringly rich voice, cleverly honed wordplay and lesser deployed rhymes, or the overarching sense of precise musical tailoring.

Albums like 2009’s Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle and 2011’s Apocalypse attracted deserved critical acclaim, something which has stayed with him with each subsequent release. These albums had more in the way of dynamic, foregrounded moments, but recent affairs like Gold Record and Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest have been notable in how they reverted to a slower, circumspect pace and gentler tone, the latter especially as a result of him finding happiness in a relationship and his role as a new father.

Latest offering YTI⅃AƎЯ sees him shake things up a little, and in some ways bridging these contrasting styles. It’s still slow and sleepy but it comes with some welcome uplifts and peaks along the way. He’s joined on the album by regular associate Matt Kinsey on guitar, Dirty Three’s Jim White on drums, Emmett Kelly on bass/backing vocals and Sarah Ann Phillips on piano/backing vocals. At times it’s the most animated he’s sounded for over a decade.

This maybe shouldn’t come as a surprise when Callahan’s comments ahead of the release are taken into account. He talked about how he “wanted to make a record that addressed or reflected the current climate. It felt like it was necessary to rouse people — rouse their love, their kindness, their anger, rouse anything in them. Get their senses working again”. By the end of the hour he’s definitely achieved that. He also spoke of how he “pictured songs that would make sense to take before an audience at this crucial juncture, where things could go either way”. It’s another point that finds backing here, with many of the tracks feeling well suited for that purpose.

Early moments like First Bird and Everywhere see him continue where he left off on Gold Record, both low key and tenderly imparted. Bowevil offers something different, built around a simple bluesy riff that builds to a striking crescendo and represents the album’s first foray into classic Callahan characterisation. His strength as a narrator bears some similarities to Nick Cave, although his style is naturally more nuanced, obtuse and calm.

The arrival of Naked Souls begins a four song sequence that both defines and elevates the album. Like a few of the tracks on YTI⅃AƎЯ it begins in mellow, horizontal fashion but grows more urgent and pressing. The gently undulating Coyotes follows, recalling pastoral, acoustic Neil Young before again building to impact. Drainface introduces a sense of heightened tension to the relative stability and minimalism of elsewhere, and also brings some of Callahan’s dramatically whispered vocals. There’s nothing muted about Natural Information, a fluid track that has a joy and looseness running through it which suggests his domestic contentment is still very much in place.

“An hour sounds like a year to me these days,” Callahan remarked when almost apologetically acknowledging the album’s length. But this is a sumptuous and rewarding way of spending 60 minutes. YTI⅃AƎЯ shows how he keeps raising the bar creatively, consolidating his place in the upper echelons of alternative rock in the process.

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More on Bill Callahan
Bill Callahan – YTI⅃AƎЯ
Bill Callahan – Gold Record
Bill Callahan & Dallas Acid @ Hammersmith Apollo, London
Bill Callahan – Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest
Bill Callahan @ Royal Festival Hall, London