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The Doctor Came At Dawn

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Album Review

Documenting romantic decay and deception with typically unflinching honesty, Bill Callahan recounts every painful detail of falling in and out of love over the course of The Doctor Came at Dawn. "You Moved In" recalls an affair's desperate, obsessive beginnings with grim humor: "You could have done better, but oh well." The song's eerie, foreboding strings and piano arrangement, as well as Callahan's deadpan vocals, give fair warning that The Doctor Came at Dawn's intimate sound hits close to home. The deadly aim of "Lize," a duet between Callahan and his sometime creative and romantic partner Cindy Dall, spares no one: "You don't make lies like you used to," they sing in near-unison, creating the tense, charged atmosphere of a stifled argument. As always, Smog walks the fine line between self-deprecation and self-parody; "Somewhere in the Night"'s handclaps and acoustic strumming make it sound like a rousing, inspirational folk song — except for the sneer embedded in Callahan's voice as he urges his beloved to devote herself to someone else. But The Doctor Came at Dawn is at its best when Callahan's sense of empathy emerges on the remarkable "All Your Women Things." Initially, it seems like a fetishistic ballad about keeping an ex-lover's things, but with deeper listening, it reveals itself as a very sincere (albeit unnerving) love song, praising his lover's different aspects: "How could I ignore your hardness, your softness, and your mercy?" Lyrically and emotionally complex, the song exemplifies the depth of Smog's songwriting. The album is also musically deep, with understated guitar, piano, and string arrangements that give the rich vocals and lyrics added impact. It might be Smog's darkest collection of songs, but it's also among Callahan's most mature and rewarding.

Biography

Formed: 1966 in Silver Spring, MD

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s

An under-recognized pioneer of the lo-fi revolution, Smog was essentially the alias of one Bill Callahan, an enigmatic singer/songwriter whose odd, fractured music neatly epitomized the tenets and excesses of the home-recording boom. Melancholy, poignant, and self-obsessed, Callahan's four-track output offered a peepshow view into an insular world of alienation and inner turmoil, his painfully intimate songs ping-ponging wildly through a scrapbook of childhood recollections, failed relationships,...
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The Doctor Came At Dawn, Smog
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