On his last great record, 2019’s “Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest,” the 56-year-old songwriter appeared to be shooing off the decades-thick mystique hanging over his life’s work — a listing courting again to the cryptic, lo-fi ballads he made within the early ’90s as Smog — and pivoting into comparatively lucid people turf, singing songs about parenthood and domesticity whereas nonetheless managing to floor the existential weirdness of the on a regular basis.
He retrieves that thread at the start of his extraordinary new album, “Ytilaer,” singing a couple of wakeful second whereas reestablishing the bottom ground of his voice: “And we’re popping out of desires as we’re coming again to desires.” Within the phrases that comply with, his younger kids come shuffling towards his bed room, and along with obsolescing the alarm clock, they’re additionally right here to ship somewhat lesson about how actuality and creativeness conjoin. Out of 1 trance, into one other. Whether or not it goes down in our acutely aware or unconscious minds, all of it counts as life.
That makes “Lily” — a half-annihilated track a couple of mom’s dying — this album’s most staggering. Patiently pushing the house between his phrases canyon-wide, Callahan describes the incomprehensibility of dying because it violates the silence of a hospital hall. “The gurney wheels screamed all down the corridor,” he sings, “identical to a seagull screaming down the corridor.” Perceptive then confounded, he’s unable to broaden the metaphor. This gurney seems like seagulls, which sound like seagulls, which looks like grief in all of its hypersensitivity and bewilderment.
The birds return in “Drainface,” one other spartan lullaby the place Callahan takes a complete 20 seconds to ship a unusually demolishing insult: “Each time you open your mouth, useless or dying seagulls fall out.” How indignant is he with this particular person? Is he indignant with this particular person? Callahan’s stoicism is what distinguishes him among the many present scrum of biggest residing singer-songwriters, and his dedication to the proposition feels as radical as ever. We count on the human singing voice to satisfy this expressive, emotive function, however he refuses.
As ever, his inscrutability looks like an upside-down kindness, the paradox of his lyrics creating room for minds to wander and marvel. Like when Callahan sings, “I really feel one thing approaching, a illness or a track,” is he implying that each are catchy? When he sings about an infestation of boll weevils, however names the track “Bowevil” (bow-evil), is he commenting on the cultish politics of a nation at present devouring itself? When he claims to have “heard the planets singing, singing as they spun, vaguely Hawaiian,” is he making reference to the Laniakea Supercluster, the galaxy supercluster wherein we reside, named after the Hawaiian phrase for “immense heaven?”
The solutions aren’t within the songs. They’re in our heads, or in our desires, or in all the opposite locations the place music refuses to be measured by yardsticks or clocks — a heaven too immense to even title.
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