PERIOD: Pre-Drag City, 1990
Sewn to the Sky is not an album that kicked off Smog into what Smog was. It was in fact, far from Smog in general, which is what makes Sewn to the Sky particularly interesting. Smog is usually labeled as somewhat of a mellow rock artist and in his debut release, he acts as a pioneer of the tape-recorded grimy lo-fi movement. This album is abrasive, bare-bones and frequently harsh to the ears, almost the opposite of Callahan’s general flow, and at the same time serves as something of a note for his future and growth. I’m going to be dead honest with you, Sewn to the Sky is not very good, but interesting on so many levels.
There is a juvenile, rebellious stroke to Callahan recorded on here. He’s very much consistent with his lyricism but some things don’t quite match up, he’s very blatant and shows his degree of perception completely. He rambles on “I Want to Tell You About A Man” about Jesus Christ for seemingly unknowable reasons. Here, it seems Callahan is being very ironic, a completely left field notion. What’s stranger is Callahan in a devil-may-care, youthful state, where not all is shown lyrically but in dirty, careless musicianship and production. His resources were so limited that he essentially had only his guitar and voice, but what is heard seems more than that, likely for the worse. This is where the name “Smog” seems to make sense.
The strangest track on this album is “Puritan Work Ethic”, following “Fables” which seemed like a sensible comparison to something he would make a few years later. The thing about “Puritan Work Ethic” that makes me uneasy is the sketchy and repetitive sampling. If you told me in 2008 that Smog sampled things, I would have said “get out, just because he’s an independent musician doesn’t mean he’s a pretentious asshole.” I was pretty ignorant back then as a fifteen year-old and I still don’t think he was a pretentious asshole, but it’s really what he samples that weirds me out. What I think I’m hearing is an impression done by Bill Callahan himself. After the choppiness of the cough samples, the track goes into song, very much punk influenced. More samples of other instruments and voices are added as the song becomes strangled into a fit of noise, worthy of being called a simulated headache.
As interesting as this album is in the context of Bill Callahan’s career and the creation of lo-fi bedroom rock projects, it doesn’t have a central theme or sound that powers it. The part about Sewn to the Sky being all over the place is both its strength and weakness and it’s just so experimental that there isn’t an immediate focus and it’s simply a lot of noise at points. However, there’s something deep inside a hole of this album that’s rattling. Where did the doom that Bill Callahan had go?