2013 – Seven (alright, Ten) Great Records

131030-bill-callahan-small-plane-dream-river-videoI’m not going to do a lot on this, mainly because I’ve kind of covered it in the Secret Santa post of last week.

But…  when asked for my top ten of the year by the kind-hearted folk of @lpgrp, I gave them this list:

  • Dream River – Bill Callahan
  • Mug Museum – Cate le Bon
  • Light Up Gold – Parquet Courts
  • Re-Mit – The Fall
  • Wed 21 – Juana Molina
  • Images du Futur – Suuns
  • Stitches – Califone
  • Corsicana Lemonade – White Denim
  • What the Brothers Sang – Dawn McCarthy & Bonny Prince Billy
  • Who is William Onyeabor? – William Onyeabor

They’re kind of in order, although if you pressed me, I’d probably change it all round again, and put a couple of extra ones in there (the Califone record deserves to go up a couple of places, I reckon…).

I am pretty sure, though, that my favourite record was Bill Callahan’s, and I wrote a few lines about it for the @lpgrp blog, which will no doubt appear there in time for Sunday’s Dream River session.

Dream River – Bill Callahan

One of the bottomless joys of Christmas time is the privilege of having time to just piss away, heedless of all other normal considerations. And, really, what better way to do this than with some warmed-up Christmas pudding and another leisurely listen to Bill Callahan’s Dream River.

To my surprise, Dream River has won the prestigious @lpgrp album of the year award to be ruminated and cogitated over on Jan 5th. And perhaps even more surprising, given my previously poor record in these matters, is that I actually voted it my favourite of the year.

I’m not going to try to do a serious review of what is at times a pretty formless and hard-to-pin-down record – it’s beyond my ken, to be honest, and would largely spoil the point of the actual evening, even if I could. There are a couple of pretty good reviews at the Pitchfork and Quietus sites, though, which will get you started. Instead I thought I’d mention a couple of pointers and suggest some ways in for folk who are just getting to know this lovely record.

When I am out walking my eyes are still forming the door I walk through

  • The word “unhurried” doesn’t really do justice to Callahan’s deep, laconic delivery or quite prepare you for his gentle, sometimes puzzling images or slowly unfolding songs. Many of the pictures and metaphors he uses develop in your mind, taking substance as they recede and the song moves on. His songs are for stopping and listening to with a slow drink and perhaps a free afternoon, rather than playing on the car stereo or while you’re doing some job or other. Callahan’s style doesn’t force itself upon you, he just doesn’t compete well with the other “stuff” of your life

First thing that I will do, I will wake you too

  • I really like Bill Callahan’s careful, deliberate delivery. He’s hardly a brash, over confident character – he’s bound to be a quiet chap, surely – but he sings with measured confidence. There’s no self-conscious masking of his voice behind multiple layers of sound – for all the sense that life baffles and confuses at time, he’s clear about having something to say and wanting to be heard.

I really am a lucky man

  • I think I read that Callahan is 47 years old now, and there’s something very refreshing about hearing a man of “advancing years” reaching something approaching contentment. This is particularly true when you apply it to such a famously sombre individual as Callahan has been. To be fair, there’s still time spent “looking out of a window that isn’t there”, but there’s a little more light mixed in with the shade these days…

The only words I’ve said today are “beer” and “thank you”

  • Actually, as with many of his best records, there’s also a fair amount of gentle humour in this record: a couple of lines of “beer… … … thank you” here, a Donald Sutherland reference there – enough to make you smile to yourself as you saunter through each song. As with many things, though, the pleasure is all in Callahan’s trademark wry delivery, one which regular fans will recognise. Other familiar features of the old Smog persona also appear: the occasional nod towards an unimagined sensuality; the haunted characters whose life stories take odd twists; the restlessness and bewildering variety of travel metaphors that go hand in hand with it. All of them are reasons in themselves to know and love Bill Callahan, but bundled together in one mature, gorgeous record they make a worthy, worthy winner of this month’s vote.

Dream River is Bill Callahan’s fourth solo record in his own name, but there are a mouth-watering 13 other albums released under the name of Smog, for you to work through, which are effectively Bill Callahan records too. My own favourites are Supper and Knock, Knock, but you can’t really go wrong wherever you start. Dig in (slowly)!

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