Uncut Music Award 2011: Bill Callahan, “Apocalypse”

As promised, today we're starting to publish the judges' deliberations on each of this year's eight shortlisted albums for the Uncut Music Award. Beginning today with Bill Callahan's "Apocalypse".

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As promised, today we’re starting to publish the judges’ deliberations on each of this year’s eight shortlisted albums for the Uncut Music Award. Beginning today with Bill Callahan‘s “Apocalypse”.

Allan Jones: This was a favourite of Danny Kelly’s, who unfortunately can’t be here today, but Linda, it’s a record that you also picked out on your shortlist. Bill, basically, is the artist formerly known as Smog, and this is his 14th studio album. It’s a quasi-concept album, very brief, seven songs. The apocalypse it refers to is kind of ill-defined, but it’s very evocative; it’s a somewhat bleak and forbidding album, but do you recall what took your fancy about it, Linda?

Linda Thompson: I just liked it, I thought it was different, not very commercial, but just the kind of thing I like. I’m afraid you’ll have to move on to somebody who can find their notes!

Tony Wadsworth: His voice is fantastic; I’m not very familiar with the whole of his canon, but this makes you really dive in to the lyrics. I like “America!”, I thought that was funny, but the negatives for me were that the arrangements could have been more ambitious, they’re very basic they’re not as interesting as the lyrics. The first song, “Drover”, is great, I think it’s better than anything else on the album.

Phil Manzanera: “I’d never heard Bill Callahan before. Being a guitarist, the first thing that struck me was how great the playing was, it wasn’t what I was expecting from this kind of music. It’s quite eccentric, similar to the sort of thing I would play, and I loved the fact that it was sort of lo-fi, you have the contrast between this songwriter telling stories – I couldn’t quite grasp what the concept was – and the instrumentation.

Allan Jones: It appears to be linked by the character who appears in the first song and re-emerges in the finale.

Phil Manzanera: In places it reminded me of Kevin Ayers, or even Leonard Cohen, while “America!” reminded me of the type of humorous things Frank Zappa used to do. It got better the more times I listened to it, I was totally confused the first time, as to how the music was working with a sort of country singer on top of it. I actually thought it was pretty good, there’s not a lot about it that I disliked.

Nick Stewart: I was playing Smog records for years on my radio shows, so I’m well acquainted with Bill Callahan’s music, and I would say this is easily the best record he’s made in a long time. There are elements of westerns in the music, things like Red River, and lyrically it’s good, and I’m glad it made the list. It replaced a record that I wanted on the short list, White Denim, but on balance I ended up preferring this one. I think it’s a staple album of the readership of your magazine, it was a staple album of my radio show.

Stewart Lee: I think there’s a lot these sort of American troubadours now, working in character almost, and if you were to choose just one of the hard-bitten songwriters on the long list, which includes Kurt Vile and Josh T Pearson, I wouldn’t have chosen this one. I don’t think it’s the best. I think 20 years ago, when he was doing sort of cut-and-paste things without even playing the guitar he was much more interesting than this.

Nick Stewart: Yes, there are records of a similar type here, such as Bon Iver or Josh T Pearson, that I prefer. I think this is a good record, though.

Mark Cooper: I was just listening to this on my way here in the car, although I don’t know a lot about him. I didn’t hear a killer tune though, and you’ve got to nail a killer tune at least once or twice on a record to make you really love it. I liked his voice, I liked the lyrics, I liked the feel of the record, I liked the music, but the lack of a killer tune was a bit of a problem for me.


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