Listening to a record from Bill Callahan can often be a daunting affair for all, as his songwriting is superb, but often overshadowed in his work by his abilities as a wordsmith. Once you indulge in Apocalypse, it’s definitely going to be difficult to find your way out, which is precisely what makes this one of Bill’s strongest releases to date.
Kicking off the album is “Drover” and the lyric “the real people went away/I’ll find a better way someday.” If you’re looking to unravel Bill’s meaning, especially in regards to the themes within, you’ll probably begin to think Callahan is trying to reclaim America for himself, for his types. It’s such a beautiful idea, expressing hope amidst a country that’s possibly in decline. Toss this in with the strumming of the guitar, the occasional string flourishes and light percussion, and surely you will recognize what a strong track this is.
“America!” doesn’t stray too far from this theme, though the discussion seems to reflect upon the great exports of our world from a man missing his homeland, though when referencing someone like David Letterman, it’s difficult to see how seriously we should take the lyrics. The song itself uses sort of a carnivalesque stomp and some cascading guitar solos to move everything along, all the way to cacophonous end. It’s odd, as it leads right into the softer “Universal Applicant,” a track that utilizes a hint of flute beneath a shaker of sorts, yet this isn’t the entire story of the track. A light-hearted guitar chord takes over a few minutes in, with some extremely minimal drumming, providing the track with a bit of an emotional boost, while Callahan sort of walks his lyrics through the rest of the number.
After so many spins, it’s hard not to fall in the love with the latter-half of this album, one of the strongest statements of Bill’s career, in one man’s mind. “Riding for the Feeling” sort of hovers over the guitar work, clinging to gentle stringing and some careful arrangements that bring the story of Bill’s world in the Apocalypse to life. It’s pointless to influence you with thoughts on emotional meaning, as each listener will surely bring their own interpretation to the table, but regardless, you’ll want to play this song again and again. Then skip ahead to “One Fine Morning,” nearly 9 minutes of Bill Callahan writing at his best. Heading out on his journey, Bill seems to be looking over the landscape of America just as much as he’s looking back over his life. Amidst the quiet dance of guitar strumming and piano, he seems to realize that he, like us all, has to confront “the hardest part,” hoping that when it all comes to an end, there will be a little sun left on the horizon. It wraps up a wonderful album, by wrapping up a wonderful track.
“One Fine Morning” serves as the final statement here on Apocalypse, and while the record might slowly fade into the background, you’ll reach over and immediately play it all over again. Slower pacing seems to suit Bill Callahan, his voice especially, allowing him to give us an honest account of his thoughts in a way only he can pull off. Nothing more needs to be said; it’s just an endearing listen from start to finish.
Download: Bill Callahan – Baby’s Breath [MP3]
Apocalypse is out on Drag City on 4/5.