Bill Callahan is the Raymond Carver of musicians. He creates audio short stories that channel a minimalist, working-class aesthetic with simple but resoundingly powerful lyrics. Callahan sing-speaks with an uninflected baritone that borders on spoken word. Lines like "Dress sexy at my funeral / my good wife / for the first time in your life," off the album Dongs of Sevotion convey a sense of resignation that is less tragic than it is celebratory.
Describing Callahan's music, John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats said his style "is to sort of smuggle in scenes of remarkable emotional and, I gotta say, spiritual weight within these fairly light constructions."
With 11 full-length albums recorded under the moniker Smog and three full-lengths and a live album under his full name, Callahan has cultivated a devoted fan base of fellow musicians and non-musicians alike. His latest seven-song record, Apocalypse (Drag City), was released in April and includes some of his most writerly, reflective lyrics. On songs like "Universal Applicant," Callahan asks, "Without work's calving increments or love's coltish punch / what would I be?" Other songs like "Baby's Breath" lament lost love amid distorted guitar that squalls like a truck horn on a desert highway, "Oh, I am a helpless man / so help me / I'm on my knees / gardening / It was not a weed / it was a flower / My baby's gone."
With such a lyrical focus, it's no surprise that Callahan also recently released a fictional epistolary novel titled Letters to Emma Bowlcut. According to Drag City, the 79-page book features "62 letters from a nameless protagonist to a woman he saw at a party."
You can see Callahan perform with Neal Morgan at Neurolux on Friday, June 24. Marlboro men and women beware: It is a non-smoking show.