On his latest modern antique, Smog reprises his best roles—the miniaturist, the naturalist, the hyperrealist
Bill Callahan’s monochromatic yet minutely graded baritone is a cold, dead thing, twitching on a slab.
His sinister Americana is understatedly cruel and sublimely dolorous, with a kinder view of nature than humanity. On River
he’s a distant silhouette trudging across a barren horizon to the tune of softly plucked nylon strings, finely drawn insights accumulating on his boots like dust. The up-tempo guitar and harmonica boogie of “The Well” stands out among the album’s meditative slow-burners, an offhandedly philosophical account of stumbling across a well in the forest. Here’s the singer who feels most comfortable vanishing—out of the city and into the woods, out of the woods and into the purity of nonbeing, erasing himself song by song. Like he says on the concisely eloquent dirge “Palimpsest”: “I’m like a southern bird / Who stayed north too long / Winter exposes the nest / And I’m gone.”