Bill Callahan questions and ponders things like few others, so his take on end times is compelling and noteworthy on Apocalypse. A lyricist of uncommon grace, with an ear for adventurous musical instrumentation and arrangement, Callahan goes somewhat sparse here, at least compared to the full-on orchestration and back-up vocals of recent albums. The move doesn't make the atmosphere any less dense, from the sinister, temporally off-kilter band interplay to the lyrics, which conjure that middle period between a lost and new world. "Drover" and "Baby's Breath" are surreal welcome mats to a record with recurring references to farming, livestock and a rustic "back-to-the-earth" sensibility that's less about honing trades than picking up survival skills. With its scorching guitars and ominous pulse, "America!" is a landmark song, a poetic, kid-gloves diatribe against an equal source of pride and malice. With Callahan's steady baritone and sly phrasing, the landscape isn't bitter or nightmarish, but contemplative of a new reality and the stories it yields. By album closer "One Fine Morning," Callahan sings, "My, my apocalypse, DC 450," reciting the record's catalogue number as a gentle reminder that it's only this world he's created that must stop spinning.
Are these songs connected by a common theme or perspective?
I think revelation is the theme of the record. With a song like "Baby's Breath," I was trying to write something that was a timeless, even egoless thing, as traditional songs are. Because so many generations have had their hands on a traditional song it takes the ego out of it. With something like "Baby's Breath," I was trying to create that for one generation. That was interesting, to me.
Have you done much farming yourself?
I mow the lawn.
That doesn't count. What, you're growing grass?
What if I make a salad out of the grass afterwards?
I guess that's a kind of farming, sure.
I was thinking about cattle and the way thoughts or parts of your brain are like these huge beasts and, if you're not careful, they'll do what they want. And if you are careful, they'll do what you want. I was thinking about the brain as being full of cattle. That was the underlying thing [on "Drover"], but also just the development of America or any country and how farming is part of it. (Drag City)