Bill Callahan is the long-standing lo-fi alt country rock musician who writes cryptic songs about love, dreams, horses. He is also known as Smog, a moniker he abandoned back around 2005 following his impressive A River Aint Too Much to Love. Since, he has opted to be recognised under his Christian name, though his musical style has remained unchanged.
Apocalypse is the follow up to 2009s Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle , which was one of Callahan’s most layered and complex albums in some time, but Apocalypse is a return to a more simplified, stripped back approach to songwriting. This isn’t a bad thing, Callahan’s strengths seem to lie in his unmistakable voice, and when his deep tones are met with plucked strings it creates a sound and atmosphere that isn’t easily replicated. ‘Baby’s Breath’ is a perfect example of this winning combination and is the album’s finest piece. His lyrics, though somewhat cryptic still manage to evoke a certain beauty, “There grows a weed, looks like a flower/Looks like baby’s breath on a mirror”.
This album is not all just a guitar and a voice though, Callahan’s too talented to wallow in simplicity as the track ‘Universal Applicant’ show’s us. On the closing track ‘One Fine Morning’ Callahan’s voice is accompanied by soft piano and atmospheric guitar for nearly nine minutes, as if ushers us to its end. ‘America!’ contains a certain irony (“I watch David Letterman, In Australia, America!”) that doesn’t seem a million miles removed from something out of South Park, and is still easily the catchiest number on the whole record.
Apocalypse probably isn’t the album you’d play for someone to turn them into a Callahan lover. It seems like a fan-only release that may just please the hardcore Smog lovers. Not that this album is bad, it isn’t, not at all. But when it follows something like Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle, an album that could turn a hardcore death metal lover into a fan, it will pale a little in comparison. Either way, Callahan’s poetry and music always seems to impress.