ill Callahan, a.k.a. (Smog), could have been a contender. While surveying the (Smog) back catalog, one can’t help but think that but with a few twists and planets aligned properly, Bill Callahan could easily be in the same position as fellow lo-fi troubadour Beck, selling millions and still maintaining his precious indie cred. But of course, that will likely never happen—it just somehow wouldn’t fit. Success just isn’t part of the (Smog) formula. One gets the feeling listening to (Smog) that the very last thing Bill Callahan wants is to be a happy millionaire, and his music is all the more convincing and effective for it.
Longtime fans will know all this already, but newcomers need look no further than Accumulation: None, the first (Smog) compilation. Callahan, as is his typically perverse habit, has fashioned a compilation of mainly rarities and non-LP singles- not exactly new user friendly stuff. But that’s typical (Smog), really.
The palpable sense that you just aren’t going to make it, that things really aren’t going to work out all right in the end, that the phone isn’t going to ring, that you really did fuck up when you broke up with that girl six years ago—these are the emotions that (Smog) thrives on. Accumulation: None accordingly presents it in spades, from the epic “I Break Horses” to the downright chilling “Little Girl Shoes,” Callahan tugs on heartstrings that many jaded music snobs might have just forgotten they even have. Even the 43-second closer “Hole In The Heart,” one of the earliest and lowest-fidelity recordings here (they span the years 1991 to present) is full of a very real sense of dread, regret, and longing, proof positive that Callahan’s feel for emotions far exceeded his grasp of technology. Hell, even the most upbeat, glam-tastic tune in the (Smog) canon, “Cold Blooded Old Times” is presented here in solo acoustic form, accenting “the type of memories that turn your bones to glass” of the lyrics with none of the rocking rhythm. It speaks volumes of Callahan’s work that this album sounds like it could have all been recorded in one session, as opposed to over more than a decade. The simple, almost primitive recording style—mainly Callahan solo on guitar, perhaps with a cheap-sounding drum machine keeping time—reinforces the music-as-therapy sensation.
But it’s not all doom and gloom: “A Hit” is still a genius of a tongue-in-cheek 45, with Callahan lamenting that he’ll never be a Bowie or a Brian Eno, only a Gary Numan; the ultra-lo-fi spaciness of opener “Astronaut” is charming in an old scratchy children’s album sort of way; and his spontaneous dropping of lines from Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby’s Got Back” into the coda of the restlessly aching “Real Live Dress” is downright hysterical. For those of us who have lived through emotional pain—and face it, who hasn’t at one time or another—it’s precisely this black humor that makes Callahan a genius rather than a mopey college kid with a 4-track. So while Accumulation: None may not be the ideal introduction to the delights of (Smog), it certainly is worthy material for the open-minded, and is full of undiscovered gold for fans (including one brilliant new cut, “White Ribbon”). Beginners might want to start with something a bit more straightforward, perhaps 1999’s Knock Knock or 2000’s Dongs Of Sevotion. Just don’t pick it up after your girlfriend dumps you, or your dog dies—I won’t be held responsible for the consequences.