Though the four songs on 1996's Kicking a Couple Around EP weren't recorded at the same time or even with the same people, it nevertheless flows seamlessly -- a fine, concise primer to Smog's aesthetic. The EP kicks off with one of Bill Callahan's most excruciating odes to claustrophobia, "Your New Friend." Originally recorded for a BBC Radio session, the song's halting acoustic rhythm and lyrical images of hiding from a dissolving relationship behind a Chinese screen are painfully honest and beautiful. "Back in School" and "I Break Horses" -- which likens love affairs to taming horses -- feature some of Callahan's warmest singing and most eloquent lyrics: "Back in School"'s "I'm trying to learn your language/It's like a fly learning how to bark" and "Just a few well-placed words/And their wandering hearts are gone" from "I Break Horses" distill Smog's blend of dry, dark humor and emotion. These two songs and "The Orange Glow of a Stranger's Living Room" were recorded by Steve Albini; their intricate, droning acoustic arrangements showcase Callahan's musical progression. Affecting and accessible, Kicking a Couple Around is a must for Smog fans and those curious about the band.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares