Image from the Bird Floor Coverings - Styles for 1951 catalog by Bird & Son Inc., 1951
For a long time, I've only owned one Smog album - 1999's Knock Knock - and it's made a distinct impression on me, but I've never really been sure what to explore next. A couple months ago, I bought the first Smog album, Sewn to the Sky (at least in part because it's referenced by name in one of Knock Knock's songs) - big mistake. It's just terrible, an unlistenable, masturbatory mess of lonely noises. I happened upon a used copy of Wild Love, though, and I feel much better. This album fulfills my hopes about Billy Callahan's early work under the Smog name, combining lo-fi instincts with some more ambitious sounds and expanding the Smog mythology in the songwriting in a very pleasing way.
The most interesting thing to me about Wild Love is its very deliberate structure, with the bulk of its tracklist composed of a set of eight short song sketches. Some of these are very bare and handspun ("Sweet Smog Children", "The Candle") almost to the point of resembling the ugly little tunes on Sewn to the Sky, but they work in combination with more fleshed out songs like the cello-inflected "Bathroom Floor". Sitting in the middle of these brief tracks is a single pop-single-type song, "It's Rough", and the whole mess is sandwiched nicely between epic bookends, beginning with "Bathysphere" (one of Callahan's most celebrated songs) at the album's start, and ending with the one-two combo of the epic "Prince Alone in the Studio" and "Goldfish Bowl". That last track may be my favorite, an understated reversal of the "Bathysphere" theme (which I didn't catch at first) based on a pulsing bed of keyboards that calls to mind the Magnetic Fields' Charm of the Highway Strip.
"Goldfish Bowl" by Smog