Smog plays slowly, sounds sexy, and brings you into its intimate world. But don’t expect to be lulled to sleep by Smog’s (a.k.a. Bill Callahan’s) newest release, Dongs of Sevotion. Callahan throws into the mix enough dry-humor (note the album’s title) and unusual sounds to make sure that you’re more likely to find yourself turning off all but the lava lamp, and lying in bed wide awake.
Since Smog formed in 1988, its releases have become increasingly better produced—obvious care being given to each slow second. Dongs of Sevotion continues this trend: high-end production of both music and lyrics makes this album more adult, yet still maintaining Callahan’s sensibility of lo-fi simplicity.
A concept album of sorts, Callahan suprisingly drinks from the same hypnotic water as Pink Floyd. The album is “Floydian” in structure, that is, but not in sound, and is even sometimes spiked with Floyd-like pretentiousness. The 11 track CD flows from quiet and rhythmic to loud and fuzzy, from muffled human cries to background vocals that sound like cheerleaders, and then back again into the predominant sound of Callahan’s not-quite-speaking, not-quite-singing voice.
Stand out tracks include the morbid “Bloodflow,” a seven-minute opus about a brutal massacre with a machete. Also, “Dress Sexy at my Funeral,” in which Callahan’s humor is combined with his knack for making serious issues seem simple. In the song, he half-begs, half-demands that his wife dress sexy for his funeral. And finally, the aptly titled “Permanent Smile,” in which Callahan’s talent for beautifully intimate lyrics shines through as he sings, “O God, by being quiet I hope to alleviate the dead / O God, by sitting still I hope to lighten your load / And when your shadow covers me from head to toe . . . tell me its my, my time to go.”
Smog is not for everybody—the pregnant pauses, the slow transitions from one line to another, and the refusal to follow up catchy hooks, leaves the listener never quite comfortable. More like Leonard Cohen than any other musician, perhaps, Callahan like Cohen is truly in it for the art. Smog is uncompromising in the best way: Dongs of Sevotion relies on its core sound of serenity which makes you enjoy being alone in your room, yet it explores that quietness in every possible way, sometimes pushing the absurd, (wondering about those cheerleaders?) and never allowing you to fall asleep.