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Bill Callahan: The Downside Of Flight

Near the beginning of his new album, Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle, Austin-based singer-songwriter Bill Callahan (best known for his work as Smog) tells the listener that he "used to be darker / then I got lighter / then I got dark again." In the disc's emotional centerpiece, "Too Many Birds," he displays a bleakness to back that up. Ostensibly about identity, the track opens with a soft acoustic-guitar strum and the story of a blackbird "without a place to land / without a place to be." Finding its desired resting tree to be full of other birds, the avian narrator searches in vain for the last place it slept, flying through the night but finding only "stone."

A plaintive cello mourns the bird's crisis as Callahan begins slowly assessing its desires: "If / if you / if you could / if you could only," he begins, before blackly concluding, "If you could only stop your heartbeat for one heartbeat." This thought seems to offer comfort, and for a few measures, the song swells with encouraging strings and strums. But it abruptly falls of a cliff, concluding with 20 seconds of silence. In the end, "Too Many Birds" flips the traditional bird-as-freedom metaphor on its head. For Callahan, it's not so great to fly if you've got nowhere to land.

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Ben Westhoff