Smog’s Bill Callahan is marvelous at being miserable. Forever caught in the boy-girl games of a seemingly never-ending breakup, he churns out consistently moping ballads of eloquent sensitivity. His newest release, The Doctor Came at Dawn, reveals Callahan in his darkest mood yet, with nine forlornly charming songs rendered chiefly by his moody voice, acoustic guitar, and occasional piano. Scrapping the scratchy lo-fi techniques of earlier days in favor of spotless production (Smog’s last EP was produced with the capable Steve Albini at the helm), the new album lays bare the bitter and the sweet in Callahan’s lyrics, which are clearer and more biting than ever. Callahan’s appeal as a songwriter lies in his ability to expose his vulnerability, and lines such as “You should leave me behind/And devote all your time/To kissing the spoon/That you once fed him from” only serve to fix his place as traveling minstrel for the lovesick. On the most memorable track, “All Your Women Things,” Callahan smacks you right in the chest with tearjerking recollections of the memorabilia his girlfriend left in his apartment: “All your buckles and straps/Releases and traps/All your screws/And false nails/Oriental winks/And Egyptian veils.” Former collaborator Cynthia Dall makes a brief appearance on “Lize,” a tongue-in-cheek ode to deception, but for the rest of Doctor’s songs it’s just Bill’s aching voice alone in the void, lulling us to a dark and appropriately smoggy sleep.—Amy Domingues

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