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splendid > reviews > 4/8/2003
(Smog)
(Smog)
Supper
Drag City


Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Our Anniversary"

Buy me now
(Smog)'s last proper album, Rain on Lens, was, for the most part a dark, damp affair, thanks in no small part to Rick Rizzo's oft-cacophonous guitar work. Bleakness is not a problem in and of itself, though; it's just that Rain on Lens didn't offer enough humor, or even melody, to approach balance. Its vaguely homogenous vibe only really invited close attention during tracks like "Dirty Pants" and "Live as if Someone is Always Watching You". However, there was a highly promising track shyly waiting at the end of the album: following the bookending "Rain on Lens 2", "Revanchism" was a Shrimp Boat-like tropical breeze, with Bill Callahan in prime tilted-grin mode. Supper recreates and multiplies the tossed-off charm of that goodbye kiss; it's a refreshing, completely approachable album.

It's still a (Smog) album, though, and so vital ingredients like ironic detachment, wry self-analysis, and, of course, Callahan's Cohen-like croon remain. But this time around, the gloom is not so much dwelled upon as laughed at. As it did on Red Apple Falls, Ken Champion's pedal steel lends Supper a wistful, rural aura on tracks like "Feather by Feather" and "Butterflies Drowned in Wine". The latter, with its shifting paces and moods, is the album's clear standout. It really blasts off during the catchy chorus, with a repetition of the song title's evocative imagery.

"Ambition" is one of many songs that benefit from Dirty Three drummer Jim White's relaxed sticksmanship. His subtle cadences shift from channel to channel, boosting the bizarreness of this stark (but not dull) take on addiction. Callahan's lyrics nail the dodgy rationale of this every-addict: "When it's all said and done I've got to celebrate / Now don't I? And when I'm done celebrating I've got to unwind / Now don't I?" White's drums also add offbeat flavor to Supper's most lovable song, "Truth Serum", a hilarious and rich short story about a night of uncomfortable intimacy and embarrassing "big issue"-tackling brought on by the taking of said serum. (So that's what they're calling it these days.)

An album of widely varying emotion and texture, Supper is no (Smog)-Lite. Personal melancholy and relationships gone awry still haunt the corners, but it is brushed onto a larger canvas of human experience. It is (Smog)'s most colorful, vigorous, and alive album to date.



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