Dream River (Drag City)
"Drinkin', while sleepin', strangers unknowingly keep me company in the hotel bar," opens Bill Callahan with "The Sing," pulling the words slowly, heavily from dislocated depths. Everything about the local songwriter's fourth LP since shedding his Smog moniker feels caught in that liminal state of dreaming, of the unconscious tension between observer and participant, passive vessel taking in the world and active force shaping it. Behind his plodding baritone on the opener, the arrangements shift subtly as if informed by the hotel's background soundtrack, thoughts floating between the bars. "Javelin Unlanding" likewise unfolds mystically within the blurred electric guitar and Beth Galiger's flute, an untethered perspective that continues attempts to pull away from the world in the soft peace of "Small Plane." More restrained than 2011's Apocalypse, Callahan's lyrics and vocals pare down to an essentialness, his low croon weaving through Thor Harris' controlling rhythms and thickly dripping in patterns that suggest greater understanding unspoken in the pauses. "Summer Painter" may be the most fully realized and evocative song, the drawling memory of painting boats rising in the cataclysm of a striking hurricane as Callahan vacillates between the need for and folly of control. Closing the eight-song set with the stretching moans of "Winter Road," the music again twisting within the varying sounds of the radio dial, Dream River comes to an embrace of the moment. "Time itself means nothing/but time spent with you," he sings. Callahan's search for meaning becomes fully realized when he's finally connected to another.
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