w/ Neil Michael Hagerty
Tues Oct 23
These past few weeks, music has had a hard time justifying its own existence, never mind its publicity. Indierock has felt particularly irrelevant. The minor preoccupations and tribal cliqueishness seem even smaller than usual, the expectations even more diminished. With all that's going on in the world, why should I care about the crabbed navel-gazing of another sad, privileged, straight white boy who didn't get to conquer the world and has mother issues?
So I was pleasantly surprised upon listening to the new (Smog) album, Rain On Lens. Opening with part one of the title cut, a song fragment of haiku-like simplicity whose impressionistic lyrics sketch the outlines of disappointment, the album explores loss, physical decline, and isolation. "Rain on lens/Boom in frame/All is ruin/Let's call it a day," sings Bill Callahan, the man behind the (Smog) moniker. He delivers the lines in a wounded tone that hints at layers of fatigue and desperation beyond the surface of the song's situation. The fear and sadness of the album are personal, but tap into the larger national mood. It's a coincidence of timing, but its indirection captures the private mood of a world gone weirder and lonelier, where dread casts a large shadow.
"If you are doing songs written in a certain time period, and recording them at the same place with the same people, it gives cohesion," Callahan says of the thematic thread on Rain On Lens. "I usually fixate unconsciously on some words or phrases that repeat." A part of that unconscious lyrical inspiration was aging. "People always say life flies by. I've been noticing the decline," he says. "You can't fight it too hard, but you can keep your eyes open."
Although (Smog)'s origins are certainly in sensitive, self-absorbed, lo-fi indie rock, Callahan's music is too complex for such neat categorization. So is his prickly worldview. The songs "Rain on Lens 1" and "Rain on Lens 2" move from "Let's call it a day" to "Let's take it again," from defeat to determination. "Life is filled with assailing moments," says Callahan. "How are you going to view them?"