By Reed Fischer
By Anna Gulbrandsen
By Jeff Gage
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By Loren Green
Girl, choose your poison. There are the sweet math-rock dorks who want to calculate their chances of a date with you. There are the indie-rock arcade geeks who'd probably let you kick their butts at Street Fighter 2, just because they care. There are the shy shoegazers who are content simply to pass you oblique glances and sigh. And then there are the bad boys who drink your last Pabst Blue Ribbon, talk about how hot your best friend is, and never remember your name. Somehow, you'd trade every last nice guy for the challenge of capturing the delinquent's black heart. You'd wait for days smoking packs of pre-coital cigarettes just to prepare for his call.
Perhaps this is the appeal of Smog's bad boy singer Bill Callahan. The home-recording pioneer is no Dirty Dancing-era Patrick Swayze, mind you, but he is self-indulgent, melancholy to the point of numbness, and nearing the top five on your celebrity heartthrob list. Legend has it that while he's touring, the throaty grumbler Callahan has a pattern of latching onto some poor, unsuspecting female groupie (Cat Power was rumored to have been one of them), moving to her hometown, and proceeding to make her life a living hell before moving on to the next girl. (Eeek--and he's heading to Minneapolis this weekend!) During live shows, he has a reputation for pairing his trademark, bare-bones musical aesthetics with an I-couldn't-care-less-about-you-and-your-CD-buying-friends attitude. Yet as his lyrics grow increasingly audacious, detached, or creepy with regard to relationships, they only seem to get sexier. Over a smug, bluesy jaunt he commands, "Dress sexy at my funeral, my good wife/For the first time in your life," as you contemplate tossing your respectable black dress in favor of a nice fishnets-and-stilettos combo ("Dress Sexy at My Funeral"). Through abrasive guitars, he wails, "I'm gonna be drunk, so drunk at your wedding," sounding as if he was a pathetic ex-boyfriend locked in the bride's bathroom ("Your Wedding"). "Most of my fantasies are to be of use/like a spindle, like a candle" insinuates the masochistic serenader over deceptively plucky acoustic guitars ("To Be of Use"). If you catch yourself harmonizing along to Callahan's siren songs--or, worse, sympathizing with his feelings--it's all over for you and your demented ways. On all of Smog's Drag City releases--from the lo-fi bathos of 1992's Forgotten Foundation to the hi-fi pathos of 2000's Dongs of Sevotion--Callahan always manages to expose his most painful sentiments with a sly half-grin. Even his bleakest songs retain a wry sense of humor. Along with the whine of steel guitars and plaintive piano solos, he sometimes employs the talents of a grade-school choir to help him sing about emotional disconnection. On the new-wave-synth song "Ex Con" (from Red Apple Falls), he illustrates his alienation by using the playful example of a thirsty robot, and he cleverly spoofs the Stones on "I Am Star Wars!" (Julius Caesar). Just the fact that Callahan named his latest EP 'Neath the Puke Tree says something about how his sick sense of humor has aided the, um, projectile path of his music career. But then again, so has his bad reputation. "Why do you women in town let me look at you so bold?/You should have seen what I was in the last town," sings Callahan on "I Was a Stranger." Uh-huh--you know what he was doing in the last town. And once you've slurped up all your drool, you can either try to answer his first question, or you can clear space to let him sleep on your couch.
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