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Smog - Accumulation: None

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Artist: Smog

Album: Accumulation: None

Label: Drag City

Review date: Dec. 5, 2002

While Bill Callahan may now employ parenthesis to understate celebrity and emphasize songcraft, his projects remain unmistakably Smog: comically morose, cynically romantic and dripping of dry wit. Cringes and chuckles abound, but the unifying factor is Callahan’s confrontational self-examination. Songs about child theft, rape, and inducing orgasm are just a few of the topics he’s tackled on past albums, and regardless of subject matter, be it smiles or death stares, the results read like a dead man’s diary. Callahan darkest demons dance on his sleeve, daring to be judged.

The trial continues on Accumulation: None. This recent compilation of singles and B-sides sees release under the (Smog) moniker, but 11 of the 12 tracks were penned sans pretentious curved lines, from 1991-2001. The disc collects some sought-after 7”’s and live recordings, including Callahan’s self-degrading tongue-in-cheek “A Hit,” which has been the bane of completists for some time now.

The choice and sequencing of tracks seem quite deliberate. Jarring lo-fi experiments like “Floating” and “Hole in the Heart” rest next to stunning BBC versions of “Chosen One” and “I Break Horses.” That said, the album flows quite well after repeated listens. The early Smog 7” tracks might test those who fell in love with Knock, Knock and Red Apple Falls, but if the purpose of Accumulation: None was to document Smog’s rise from tape-loop rogue to cynical Shakespeare, Callahan’s selection of songs certainly does the job.

Accumulation: None features some of Callahan’s most affecting material. The ambiguous “Came Blue” finds Callahan at his most vulnerable, while the acoustic “Cold Blooded Old Times” instills perverse chills via one of Smog’s catchiest rhythms. The culminating “Hole in the Heart” overcomes its shotty production with the poignant lyric, “Anybody who’s ever had a hole in their heart / knows how hard it is to start / a new day.”

“White Ribbon” is the only new track on Accumulation: None and maybe provides a hint at Smog’s upcoming full-length, tentatively scheduled for release in Spring 2003. The track utilizes minimal production and focuses on what can know be described as typical Smog material. Callahan sings of picking up his mail-order bride down at the harbor: “She said she’d wear a white ribbon / tied high on her thigh.” “White Ribbon” is another prime example of Callahan’s ability to inspire drama in even the most comical of circumstances, as well as a glimpse into the emotional hunger that drives his songwriting.

The high points of Accumulation: None are the two BBC pieces recorded in 1997. “Chosen One” was heartbreaking enough on the prankish Julius Caesar, but Callahan takes it to new levels with piano accompaniment and three years of perspective. “I Break Horses” is one of Callahan’s most stark compositions, with some of his most disturbing lyrics: “I break horses / I don’t tend to them.” The second verse is especially flooring: “At first her warmth felt good between my legs / A living, breathing, heart-beating flesh / But then that warmth turned to an itch / Turned to a scratch / Turned to a gash / I break horses.” The original version of this piece appeared on Knocking a Couple Around, but this Peel Session, in fleshed out form, rightly takes its place among Callahan’s greatest accomplishments.

Accumulation: None may be redundant for Smog fanatics who own the original 7”’s and singles, but for those only recently introduced to Callahan’s majesty, it’s an essential anthology.

By Otis Hart

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