Smog Biography

The creation of Bill Callahan (Silver Springs, Maryland, USA) and an ever-changing cast of musicians, Smog are important pioneers of the lo-fi revival in American independent music during the early 90s, influencing acts as diverse as Pavement and Will Oldham’s Palace. Callahan’s albums are characterized by their sparse, often discordant instrumentation, and his self-absorbed and intimately revealing lyrics.

Basing himself in Georgia, Callahan’s early cassette-only releases were self-produced, largely instrumental soundscapes, with just Callahan and his guitar alone in the studio. Moving to California and Drag City Records, in 1992 Callahan released the more song-orientated Forgotten Foundation, which was quickly followed by the excellent Julius Caesar, an album whose tone was set by the gloom-laden ‘Your Wedding’. The Burning Kingdom mini-album featured Callahan’s fullest production to date, although the lyrical mood was still relentlessly downbeat (sample lyric: ‘I’m crawling through the desert without water or love’). The inexorable pessimism was almost overwhelming on Wild Love, the stand-out track proving to be the reflective ‘Prince Alone In The Studio’. Other musicians appearing on these albums included underground legend Jim O’Rourke and Callahan’s girlfriend and occasional songwriting partner Cynthia Dall.

In contrast, 1996’s The Doctor Came At Dawn featured Callahan alone in the studio. The following year’s Red Apple Falls fleshed out the instrumentation with pedal steel and French horn, but it was still Callahan’s eerily detached guitar and vocals that provided the album’s emotional core. The over-elaborate Knock Knock from 1999 was not one of Callahan’s finest albums, although it still received polite reviews from critics enamoured of his low-key charm. The follow-up Dongs Of Sevotion, despite its dreadful title, was widely considered to be a return to form.

From 2001’s Rain On Lens onwards, Callahan began releasing material under the (Smog) moniker, although the slight typographical change did not reveal any great change in musical style. Rain On Lens was also the first album to feature Callahan on the front cover. The follow-up Supper was one of the artist’s most accessible and heartfelt recordings. Callahan abandoned the (Smog) branding on 2005’s A River Ain’t Too Much To Love, which featured a guest appearance by his romantic partner and fellow singer-songwriter Joanna Newsom. In 2007, he released his first album under his own name.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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