Period: Home-recording, Drag City debut (1992)
After Sewn to the Sky, I could only wonder what madness I could expect on Forgotten Foundation. The experimentalism that was seen so early on in Bill Callahan’s career is interesting but only to an extent and by “an extent”, I really just mean Sewn to the Sky. The nature of it made sense in strange ways, but it was so grimy and harsh that it was perhaps an unintentionally original way to start a career, however, on Forgotten Foundation, it feels almost like repetition without any real inspiration. This is the worst point in Smog’s fifteen-year run.
If you’re new to Smog and have been reading my Complete & Accurate, I bet it’s been difficult for you to believe that this guy is that great, which is quite a shame. With that said, let me use this review as a bit of an explanation in a concise block of writing about why this album, specifically, is indeed bad. Also, I am going to talk to you (indirectly) in this review if you haven’t figured that out. If you ended up listening to Sewn to the Sky (or maybe even read my review) you would know that Smog, thus far, has made some choppy, sometimes inexplicable music and with that knowledge, I can tell you these two albums are very similar from that perspective. It features twanged guitar riffs out of nowhere, production with basically zero drive to it, and it is extremely reliant on the repetitive nature of early nineties experimental rock, but none of the personality or heart of Sewn to the Sky. So what you’re getting here is a watered down version of that album and what feels like b-sides to what already seemed like b-sides.
Aside from trying to compare this album to its predecessor, I can vouch that this album is bad on unrelated songwriting levels. The track “Evil Tyrant” is either supposed to be ironic and turns out to not be funny at all or is actually the worst Smog song in existence (fun game: listen to this, then listen to anything else he’s made outside this album). Bill Callahan is heard at his whiniest and most naive, both in tone and production. He is new to music and it shows more on “Evil Tyrant” than any other, though it’s not terribly far off from the quality of the rest of the album, which is consistently immature, and having heard more of his music previously, that’s pretty baffling.
To be fair to Bill Callahan, he still had very little on the side of recording equipment, but the production on Forgotten Foundation did not even go as far as Sewn to the Sky. The album manages to pull it together towards the end production-wise, but the build-up is extremely awkward, where the guitar sounds overly muted and flat on the first four tracks, as does everything else. I don’t usually dock points (or whatever the hell I actually dock) for production, but the way it was done here lacked much in a vital sort of tone, and that’s unfortunate. I could not see more of a direction in Smog’s career on Forgotten Foundation than I could on Sewn to the Sky, which in reality is the actual worst yet most accurate thing I can say about it.