Bill Callahan’s Dream River is still fresh in our hearts and while many of us are wondering if it’s his best album or just the most evocative, here comes a full-on dub reworking. Now, don’t run and hide or presume that this is Dream River with new-improved “riddims.” This is that album, largely the same in structure, just kind of ripped apart and put back together with large (very large) amounts of echo and reverb. Callahan’s vocals ease in and out, key phrases like “beer and thank you” and “you look like worldwide Armageddon” float through in a drowsy reverie.
The last decade or so of Bill Callahan’s music has been a steady process of refinement, stripping away extraneous words and instrumentation and leaving only what’s essential. While this trend doesn’t run in a straight line—2006’s Neil Hagerty-produced Woke on a Whaleheart has a comparatively heavy production touch—he’s mostly done away with reverb, distortion, and processing; his music tends to consist of basic instrumentation presented without adornment, reflecting a confidence that the songs are strong enough to do the work. Last year’s Dream River was no exception, so it was on one hand a surprise that an advance track prior to the record’s release was a "dub" version of "Javelin Unlanding" called "Expanding Dub".
As the title suggests, this record is the ghost of Bill Callahan’s Dream River, drifting hypnotic across the astral plane and breaking through the white light into whatever realm lies beyond. This record is dubbed out, cosmic, Lynchian—it is the swaying, omniscient pines Agent Cooper drives past, mesmerized, in the Twin Peaks pilot as he wonders aloud, “Oh Diane, I almost forgot. Got to find out what kind of trees these are.
Over the years, Bill Callahan has achieved the kind of status that means he can put out a dub version of an album with anyone having much recourse to complain. And so Dream River, arguably his finest album since dropping the Smog moniker, is here reimagined in the unlikely form of a dub record. The tracklisting mirrors Dream River, only each song is playfully retitled.
Even the wispiest of larks can take to the sky. Meandering can be full of purpose, and dub’s obfuscation can simultaneously have a distilling effect. But Dream River, Bill Callahan’s 2013 album, would never have come to mind as a prime candidate for an extended version. It’s a sultry, groove-filled record, but it’s more groovey than anything befitting the fragmented cool of the dub treatment.
Bill Callahan’s decision to release a 12” of two “dub” cuts from his most recent album surprised pretty much everyone who thought they knew his music. Yet the concept has now been expanded to a full reworking of that pastoral, middle-aged album, wherein snatches of Callahan’s vocals are looped and delayed over a mildly dub backing that’s more in keeping with the hushed, self-assured tones of Dream River than, say, The Black Ark. That’s not to say these aren’t effective, informed and downright enjoyable remodels, rather they come from a different place – to both Callahan’s originals and the weed-infused studios of 60s and 70s Jamaica.
Whatever the word dub means to you, chances are Bill Callahan's version won't match it. Have Fun With God is dub in the root sense of a double: essentially, it's a cubist remix of his 2013 album Dream River, fracturing the surface of each song the more strikingly to communicate the emotion at its core. Thank Dub inhabits an eerie parallel universe to Dream River's opening track The Sing, itself a song about a man trapped within a lonely parallel universe of hotel bars and sleeping strangers.
Bill Callahan's well-metered, sophisticated, and subtly hilarious 2013 album Dream River was a glistening, understated experience. Its eight softer, drawn-out songs served as a gentle backdrop for Callahan's almost-spoken recitations and clever poetic epiphanies, and the entire set of tunes floated by in a Zen-like haze. A year or so later, the curious Have Fun with God offers up remixed versions of each of the eight tracks from Dream River, inspired by Callahan's love of '70s dub and Jamaican music and influenced deeply by the echo-heavy rhythms and splintered vocal treatments of the genre.
Yes, this is a dub version of Bill Callahan’s Dream River. I’ll let that sink in. At first Have Fun With God makes little sense but Dream River was an album based on space. On one of 2013’s best releases, the silence that invaded before Callahan began to reveal more lyrics or the pauses between silvery guitar lines gave the album levity, so why not make a more expansive version? Unfortunately Have Fun With God doesn’t match the brilliance of Dream River and never quite evolves beyond being an interesting experiment and nothing more.
Whether recording under his own name or as Smog, Bill Callahan has always been enigmatic, a cowboy philosopher with a booming tenor that could make almost anything sound important. His new project finds him as dreamy as he's ever been, but in the sense that dreams can be muddled, illogical, and kind of boring to hear about. Have Fun with God, a collection of dub remixes of songs from last year's Dream River, is at first an intriguing proposition.
If the world needed any further proof that Bill Callahan has an almost pathological contrarian streak, he delivered it last year when he promoted his then-forthcoming album, Dream River, by releasing a dub version of one of its highlights, 'Javelin Unlanding'. Aside from the perversity of promoting an album by way of music that would not appear on it, Callahan's choice to release 'Expanding Dub' as Dream River's lead single revealed the artist's heretofore unknown love for dub music. As he explained in an interview with the Quietus last year, "Dub is a spiritual, abstract, visceral, mystical thing.
Sun Kil Moon, Benji (Stream) Heartbreaking and raw, Benji is Sun Kil Moon’s best album to date, and indisputably cements Mark Kozelek’s reputation as one of the finest storytellers in contemporary indie music. Kozelek focuses each song around a central character or theme—usually friends or family from Ohio who have died or in some way encountered death—and combines tightly woven narratives with his own captivating and idiosyncratic free association to explore the way in which humans process other people’s tragedies through their own experiences. The sparse musical arrangements and haunting production only serve to heighten the album’s intimacy and ultimately render it a masterpiece of reflection and introspection, destined to be played on repeat in scores of late-night, tired, and lonely rooms.