Building on Julius Caesar's artful songcraft, Wild Love expands Bill Callahan's lyrical and musical horizons, balancing roughness and polish in just the right amounts. Recorded in a proper studio with Drag City's favorite producer, Rian Murphy, the album benefits from a wider musical palette; instead of Julius Caesar's lo-fi patchwork, the sound is focused into a hypnotic blend of chamber music and indie rock. Keyboards, chamberlin, and cello add a theatrical flair to Wild Love's dark, witty portraits of domestic frustration, especially the opening and closing songs, "Bathysphere" and "Goldfish Bowl." The arrangements are key; sometimes they reflect the moody, detailed lyrics. On the frail, flickering ballad "The Candle," Callahan sings, "I'm gathering these splinters to make a raft someday," accompanied by delicate, feeble guitars and keyboards, while "Be Hit"'s awkward drumming and out-of-tune strumming mirror its ugly words: "Every girl I've ever loved has wanted to be hit/And every girl I've ever loved has left me because I wouldn't do it." At other times, the dense orchestrations are ironic; "Sleepy Joe" and "Prince Alone in the Studio" are emotionally detached. As usual, the lyrics are sad, funny, and often cut to the quick. Couplets like "The Candle"'s "I was on her body/He was on her mind/I caressed her/He possessed her" provoke a reaction somewhere between a wince and a grin. On a purely musical level, the album is of Smog's most remarkable achievements, combining studio effects and low-budget innovation. The snare drums and chamberlins on "The Emperor" sound like fireworks over a parade, while the chiming guitars on "It's Rough" add a touch of empathy. A finely wrought, riveting album.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares