Bill Callahan - Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle LP (Drag City, 2022 repress)
"Like Woke on a Whaleheart, Eagle is kitted out with the instrumentation-- cellos and violins, French horns, pump organs, electric pianos-- that he's embraced post-Smog. On Whaleheart, such embellishments were rangy and shambling; here they're loosely clenched, as if Callahan built the music to hold him together. Eagle addresses a specific-sounding lost love, but more broadly, it does what every Callahan record does: It takes a long hard look at who he is and what he believes at this moment. As a result, it finds him questioning the truths he discovered on Whaleheart, as when, on "Eid Ma Clack Shaw", he dreams the perfect song and scribbles it down in the middle of the night, discovering in his notebook the next morning the nonsense words of the song's title.
This self-portrait is so complex and subtle that it's tempting to skip discussing the actual music, which speaks so eloquently for itself. Some of the finest, most varied arrangements of Callahan's career are here. Wafting strings and contrapuntal soprano vocals render "Rococo Zephyr" as buoyant and lilting as its namesake. On "Eid Ma Clack Shaw", silvery electric guitar moves up and down staccato piano. "My Friend" and "All Thoughts are Prey to Some Beast" are almost like folk-Krautrock, with interlocked motifs billowing out over rigid pulses. Best of all is how the clenched arrangements open out into flowing, tender catharsis, and these are the moments you'll come to anticipate-- wait for the beatific chorus that bears Callahan's dense voice improbably high above the sinuous strains of "The Wind and the Dove", or the effervescent strings casting periodic surges of light through "Jim Cain".
Like the birds he loves so well, Callahan's albums find him alighting momentarily on precarious perches and naming what he sees. By the time we hear the music, he seems to have flown on again. His vantage from Eagle is one of textured ambivalence; his images split and shimmer like double-exposures, immediately releasing an obvious meaning quickly followed by a subtler one that equivocates the first. He's "still as a river could be," and a "child of linger on." He used to be "sort of blind," but now he can "sort of see." On "Faith/Void", he decides that it's time to "put God away," to no longer strive for his "peace in the light." Twenty years in, and Bill Callahan appears to be tearing up everything he's believed and starting from scratch, armed with the terrifying wisdom of knowing that one knows nothing, and searching for meaning regardless. He's resigned but heroically presses on. The void looms, but the music keeps it barely at bay." - Brian Howe (Pitchfork)