Bill Callahan: Have Fun With God

[31 January 2014]

By Nathan Stevens

Yes, this is a dub version of Bill Callahan’s Dream River. I’ll let that sink in.

At first Have Fun With God makes little sense but Dream River was an album based on space. On one of 2013’s best releases, the silence that invaded before Callahan began to reveal more lyrics or the pauses between silvery guitar lines gave the album levity, so why not make a more expansive version? Unfortunately Have Fun With God doesn’t match the brilliance of Dream River and never quite evolves beyond being an interesting experiment and nothing more.

Dream River never was the most immediate album and Have Fun With God makes the formerly lazy flow even more molasses like. Dream River opener “The Sing” becomes “Thank Dub”, easily the most lethargic song on the album. Callahan’s murmured words are finally matched by an equally inebriated background that seems ready to drift off to sleep. The only truly clear word here is “Beer” which reverberates around as the production fades away for a few seconds. Unfortunately the dub version of Callahan’s drunken musings is slightly wonky. When Callahan begins singing slightly out of the time signature, the whole song feels rhythmically jarring. Similar problems arise throughout the album with instruments or Callahan’s voice feeling out of place.

Another major problem is how often the album removes Callahan’s voice. This isn’t so much a problem musically; rather these edits remove the weight from the stories told on Dream River. “Small Dub” cuts out a good chunk of Callahan’s lyrics, which is a shame considering the original “Small Plane” arguably held Dream River’s best short story. “Summer Dub” has the same issue with Callahan’s tale about a devastating hurricane being replaced by uncoordinated dub productiom. 

Oddly enough, the songs that were less minimalistic on Dream River work with the dub redesign the best. “Call It Dub” makes “Spring” into an even more menacing song with Callahan’s blistering guitar distorted into a chilling outro. “Ride My Dub” has the album’s best groove and the spacious sound makes Callahan’s eerie call of “I don’t ever want to die” even more unsettling. The only song that might have actually been improved by the dub vibe is “Transforming Dub” (originally “Seagull”). The off kilter tempo is made languid and oddly enticing. “Transforming Dub” is also one of the few times where we get a reminder of how powerful Callahan’s voice can be when multiple Callahans begin toning “Dream river…” over each other to a hypnotic effect. Around half way through the song Callahan sings “I wonder if I’ll ever wake up … .” It’s a good question considering the stupor that these dub versions can put you in, though considering the dark undertones pleasant dreams probably won’t be forthcoming.

Still, Have Fun With God winds being an unmoving diversion. On its own, it’s an interesting album that becomes torpid much too often. But when compared to Dream River, it completely crumbles. Its greatest weakness is its source material’s strength. With the possible exception of “Transforming Dub”, there’s not a song here that wasn’t better in its original setting.

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