Bill Callahan – YTI⅃AƎЯ – Album Review
by Killian Laher
In these anxious times, the need for a new Bill Callahan album is stronger than ever. His latest album has a very Bill Callahan title, with Reality reversed in a mirror. His previous album, Gold Record followed quickly after 2019’s Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest. While it was a strong album, it was apparently recorded in a week. Its haste made it feel like a second-tier Bill Callahan album.
No such feelings this time out, right from the first few seconds of the opening track First Bird. It begins with sparse guitar strums and Callahan’s warm voice with occasional electric guitar rumblings from Matt Kinsey. Little by little, drums and woodwind are added, and the track swells to something of an aural hug. It feels like a classic, certainly a high watermark for Bill, and this is only the first track! Everyway is similarly chilled-out, reminiscent of his material on Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle or Apocalypse. Again, it’s mainly guitar picking with occasional electric guitar rumblings.
A gear change for Bowevil, Callahan and co dialling up the tension. It’s a little like a more stripped-down America! with a little groove to the acoustic strumming. Partition which follows it has a similarly tense feel, though this one feels a bit dragged out over six minutes. Later, Natural Information is almost slinky funk, complete with a set of horns that occur across several tracks. There’s a return to sparseness for Lily, which slowly unfurls, acting as a kind of reset before Naked Souls. This track evolves from a placid twanging guitar, building to an explosion of horns four minutes in as Callahan sings menacingly “God destroy these naked souls”. Sounds like it shouldn’t work but it really does.
There are many blissed-out moments here, such as Coyotes, a sweet and gentle track which builds to a brooding middle. There’s a lot going on in each song, many such as Drainface are complex, building from simple-sounding acoustic guitar and then morphing into different movements, this particular track ending off with a foreboding, pulsing bassline. Later, The Horse and Planets feature more horns, the latter has Bill Callahan singing what sounds like “kiwa kiwa, malou” and it sounds impossibly relaxed, before the addition of piano, Kinsey’s guitar noise, percussion and of course, the horns come centre stage for a lengthy, almost freeform outro.
This album certainly feels more substantial than Gold Record. Bill Callahan is one of the finest songwriters currently in music. His appeal is hard to measure, his songs initially sound like straightforward folk but they twist and turn, burrowing themselves into your brain. There’s no point in listening to one song in isolation. This is meditative music that you need to listen to as a whole album, let it wash over you and return to it again and again.