Drag City recently released Bill Callahan's long-waited first literary experiment: a two-part compilation of printed letters obsessively written to, not from, a woman that the narrator sees at a party. This work, whether it wants to or not, makes a nod to writers like Italo Calvino, André Breton, and even to Aldous Huxley's concentrated mescaline trip in Brave New World, yet Letters to Emma Bowlcut misses the mark and is rendered not with an aptitude for the concept of surrealism, but instead with surrealistic descriptors in place of silent, empty spaces--filler easily discarded.
Callahan's story-telling ability in this work definitely lacks a cohesiveness or emotional complexity and does not represent his skills that are apparent on any and all of his albums produced thus far, as (Smog) or otherwise. Instead what is left behind is a story line similar to Sometimes I Wish I Were An Eagle (Drag City)--where one can almost hear gruff, melancholic crooning in reaction to several layers of emotional heart-break, but instead one is left wondering, unfortunately more importantly, if Emma Bowlcut will ever appear. Callahan is firstly and fore-mostly a great musician and this is evidenced even more by the production of this purely written work void of sound or musicianship of any kind--two pieces he can't seem to do without.
Still Letters to Emma Bowlcut is not a lost cause as Callahan does produce some short creative and capturing passages, like in Letter 15: "It's hot there isn't it. I hope you're either keeping yourself pale or tanning until completely dark" (p. 18). And though this work should definitely be read by Callahan fans, it, like many other works by musicians-cum-writers, is not lasting and leaves readers waiting for the next, better piece of writing, if there ever is one.
Drag City: http://www.dragcity.com/artists/bill-callahan
Mention on Pitchfork: http://www.dragcity.com/artists/bill-callahan