Wild Mercury Sound

Bill Callahan; "Apocalypse"

John Mulvey

As some of you have probably deduced, I’ve had a copy of Bill Callahan’s excellent “Apocalypse” for a couple of months or so now. It’s a lovely perk of the job, getting an album like this so early, compromised a little by Drag City insisting I didn’t mention its existence on the blog for what seemed like an age.

To be honest, negotiations about when I could or couldn’t write about “Apocalypse” became so complicated that I ended up forgetting to blog about it at all. I was reminded yesterday, though, when I noticed that Michael had posted Graeme Thomson’s Uncut review of “Apocalypse” on the website.

Given Graeme’s thorough job, I’m not going to spend too much time here. “Apocalypse” is presented by Callahan, gnomically of course, as a kind of concept album, though musically it feels less tightly defined than 2009’s wonderful “Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle”.

Unlike the scattershot “Woke On A Whaleheart”, though, it still finds Callahan playing to his mature strengths: “Riding For The Feeling” and “One Fine Morning” have the rueful, elegaic, understated grandeur of songs from “A River Ain’t Too Much To Love”, which I increasingly suspect might be my favourite Callahan/Smog record.

Elsewhere, the opening “Drover” expands on the trick of producing widescreen imagery with subtly deployed tools; a touch of Scarlet Rivera-ish fiddle makes me think of Rolling Thunder, too, while the jazz flute on “Free’s” points up the playfulness and lightness of touch which preconceptions about Callahan’s lugubriousness - or worse - can sometimes obscure.

Graeme writes plenty and wisely about “America!”, which I initially thought may be kin to “Natural Decline” from “Rain On Lens”, though I’m now wondering whether it might be closer to something on “Dongs Of Sevotion”. Anyhow; edgier and harsher than most else here, it still fits into “Apocalypse”, which generally showcases a real master with a complete confidence in his vision. There’s an eye for detail, too – the ravishing cover, the sung catalogue number at close (a schtick that reminds me distantly of Marvin Gaye reciting the credits at the end of “Midnight Love”) – which betrays a loving, craftsmanlike aesthetic. Undermining, again, the chill Callahan stereotype. Great record.


Newsletter


Editor's Letter

The 43rd Uncut Playlist Of 2014


Very taken with Africa Express' version of "In C", by Terry Riley, this week. I have a few takes on the piece (50 years old this month, incidentally), the latest being one by Portishead's Adrian Utley from a couple of years back, though I still probably default to what I think is the original...