It’s been 20 years since we heard Smog’s ’Spanish Moss’ for the first time and every Bill Callahan record since has f#cked us up. This is his first new one in years and is quite possibly his best. Supremely beautiful music...
"As you listen to ‘Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest’, a feeling of totality, of completeness, steals over you, like a thief in broad daylight. Of course it does - you’re listening to a new Bill Callahan record. The first one in almost six years. First, it’s a different kind of record. Bill’s now writing from somewhere beyond his ‘Eagle’-‘Apocalypse’-‘River’ headspace and ‘Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest’ is very much its own beast. The songs are, by and large, shorter and there are more of them. It took almost all of the previous three albums to add up to that many. Plus, twenty’s a lot of songs.
After ‘Dream River’, Bill’s life went through some changes. Good changes - marriage and a kid - but afterwards, it was suddenly harder for him to find the place where the songs came, to make him and these new experiences over again into something to sing. His songs have always been elusive, landing lightly between character study and autobiography, as the singer-songwriter often does. This felt different, though. After 20 years of putting music first, he wasn’t prepared to go away from it completely. Or was he? The lives of a newlywed, a new parent, they have so much in them - but writing and singing, it was his old friend that had helped him along to this place where he’d so happily arrived. Was there room for everybody? While sorting it all out, he worked on songs every day - which meant that for a while, there were lots of days simply confronting the void, as he measured this new life against the ones he’d previously known.
It informed the shape of the album. Moving gradually from reflections upon the old days in ‘Ballad Of The Hulk’ and ‘Young Icarus’ to the immediacy of the present moment in ‘Watching Me Get Married’ and ‘Son Of The Sea’, Bill traces the different life lines, casually unwinding knotty contradictions and ambiguities with an arresting stillness. The sense of a life thunderstruck by change infuses ‘Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest’ - the songs wander from expressions of newfound joy and great contentment to other snapshots, considerations of the not-joy that we all know. Unsettling dream-images and mythic recollections are patiently received; the undertow of the past is resisted, pulling against it instead into the present, accepting revolutions of time and the unconscious as a natural flow.
These transcendent expressions are wedded translucently to the music. Acknowledging the uncertainty in which the songs were assembled, Bill went to the studio alone, unsure if he could find what he was looking for with a band riding along - because who knew how long it would take? This allowed the fluidity of his song-thoughts to be laid down with the right feeling. Once there was guitar and vocals, the other parts came. Matt Kinsey’s guitar partnership is an essential relationship within the music, as is Brian Beattie’s acoustic bass - but also, Bill found himself overdubbing parts himself for the first time in many years, which lent the songs an episodic drift, as if he’s passing through rooms while singing.
In its final mix, ‘Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest’ glows incandescent - an entirely acoustic arrangement, sounds and stories shifting seamlessly, almost like one big song made of a bunch of new stories - the kind that only Bill Callahan thinks to sing. It’s a joy to hear from this old friend - informing all the lives that we’ve led in the hearing."
Following their acclaimed opera-in-suspension about Fugazi, NYC’s Object Collection imagine a delirium of transhuman thought and progressive politics on their return to the inimitable Slip label.
‘You Are Under Our Space Control’ sees the duo of Kara feely (text) and travis just (music) refocus their “operatic” sensibilities into a typically confounding “space-opera” that somehow ties up references as wide reaching as John Cage’s 1951 piano solo ‘Music Of Changes’, with Cy Roth’s sci-fi ‘Fire Maidens From Outer Space’ from the same year, as well as texts inspired by Sun Ra and the Russian Cosmists’ poetics and philosophies, and interviews from real (and imagined) space travellers and astronomers.
Aye, it’s a proper headful of ideas, and understandably chaotic with it, but OC’s make a virtue of somehow maintaining a coherence though their sharply chopped arrangements, which start out tightly puckered, but gradually loosen up into more sprawling, psychedelic designs as the album proceeds. What happens in its 18 parts is comparable to a sort of home-brewed sci-fi soundtrack imagined by a teenaged dream-team of Todd Dockstader, Bruce Haack, and Sonny Blount; a sound full of mercurial wormholes, with an animist capacity to rouse arcane spirits, and a magnetic pull to the most restlessly searching listeners of the weird and wonderful. Most crucially, for an album rooted in ‘50s sci-fi and avant-garde, the results prize that era’s modernist promise without coming off as retrogressive or corny.
Helmet electro charges from Glasgow’s Galaxian on the Manchester-based Natural Sciences
‘Golden Armageddon’ is top loaded with the title track’s 9 minutes of turbulent electro rhythm, expansive choral arrangements and asteroid-field noise navigations, backed with the Ultradyne-esque sci-fi styles in ‘Ride The Spiral’, and the blown-out kaoz of ‘Psychic Purification’.
Yacht-ready soul from Kindness, teaming up with Jazmine Sullivan (Frank Ocean, Mary J. Blige, Anderson .Paak) and Sampha to reveal another cut from the forthcoming album ‘Something Like A War’, his follow-up to 2014’s ‘Otherness’ album