Bill Callahan | Apocalypse (Drag City)

Not only is it begging to be included on your next road trip playlist, it’s also one of the album’s surest portrayals of Callahan’s resonant lyrics.



I got into Bill Callahan kind of late, and when I finally did I was intimidated by his back catalogue—when an artist has the sixteen or so LPs that Callahan has (most under his better-known moniker, Smog), all of which are purported to be fantastic, where does one start? I broke this block by just picking them as I came across them at record stores, and by now I’ve heard nearly all of them. The only one that doesn’t really do it for me is 2009’s Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle, and even that isn’t bad; it’s just not as good as the rest.

In keeping with his well-documented prolific release of albums, this year we have the seven songs of Apocalypse, and they’re as strong as ever. They’re also fairly subtle—Callahan’s always been a great lyricist but only sometimes writes particularly catchy tunes such as Knock Knock’s “Cold Blooded Old Times,” or Woke on a Whaleheart’s “Diamond Dancer.” The songs on Apocalypse skew closer to the lovely, relaxing meanderings of, say, Supper’s “Our Anniversary” than the hooks of the two aforementioned tracks.

Though the second track, “Baby’s Breath,” has received the brunt of Drag City’s promotional push for the album, it isn’t one of the best tracks. Those honors go to—can I pick three?—the album opener “Drover,” “Riding for the Feeling,” and the album closer “One Fine Morning,” which together account for about half of the album’s 40-minute running time. “Riding for the Feeling” in particular is a standout. Not only is it begging to be included on your next road trip playlist, it’s also one of the album’s surest portrayals of Callahan’s resonant lyrics, with such winners as “I kept hoping for one more question/ Or for someone to say/ ‘Who do you think that you are?’ / So I could tell them,” or the more directly relevant “Riding for the feeling/ Is the fastest way to reach the shore.” This motif of traveling is carried on through “One Fine Morning,” with imagery like “And the mountains bowed down/ Like a ballet/ In the morning sun.” Elsewhere we have the album’s jauntiest tune, “America!” which is more upbeat than the mostly relaxed rest of the album, and whose most memorable line is, “America!/ I watch David Letterman/ In Australia!”

Part of me feels that while Apocalypse has its share of good songs, it maybe isn’t as strong as Callahan’s standard for perfection. Either way it’s better than Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle and is a solid enough collection of songs that it’s hard to really find fault with. So maybe if you are where I was a few years ago and want to get into Callahan but don’t know where to start, Apocalypse wouldn’t be a bad choice, but you’d perhaps be better served by Knock Knock, Supper, or A River Ain’t Too Much to Love. On the other hand, if you’ve kept up with Callahan after all these years, Apocalypse will be a welcome addition to your collection, and yet another reminder that he still has it. B+ | Pete Timmermann


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