Mark Kozelek is not somebody who follows a predictable path. Over 20 years, having made his name with Red House Painters, he has recorded as Sun Kil Moon and under his own name. He has released heavy, electric workouts and classical guitar pieces. He has also enjoyed interpreting others’ work, with whole albums dedicated to his versions of ACDC and Modest Mouse. His collaboration with Jimmy LaValle of electronic project The Album Leaf might be his most left-field yet.
Created using Dropbox, on initial listens Kozelek’s voice sounds odd against the admittedly very pretty electronic soundbeds. However, despite the odd occasion where the backing tracks can be over-cluttered, verging on the cheesy side (What Happened To My Brother, You Missed My Heart), against all the odds the album succeeds. 1936 and By The Time That I Awoke echo the gentle glitch of Boards of Canada or Small Moments-era David Kitt.
After the casual feel to previous albums Among the Leaves and Like Rats, here songs like Gustavo are longer and appear more realised, as if Kozelek has put more effort in than of late. The comparatively sparse organ piece Ceiling Gazing works well with Kozelek’s vocals. In fact as the album progresses he sounds more and more comfortable singing in this environment. Although the music is largely electronica-dominated, Caroline features Arab Strap-like scraping of guitar strings over relaxed beats.
Lyrically, Kozelek mixes the banal (1936 – “kids are f**king p***ks”) with the heartfelt (Ceiling Gazing – “it was the first and last time I saw my dad cry”) and the perhaps autobiographical (much of By The Time That I Awoke).
But it’s the music that really stands out, and never more so than on the final two tracks. Here Come More Perils From The Sea has a relaxed, easy guitar figure at its core and a feel not unlike some of Lloyd Cole’s more ‘treated’ guitar work. The final track is titled Somehow The Wonder Of Life Prevails. With a title like that and a running time of 10 minutes a song should be extraordinary and it is. It’s an all encompassing tale covering a high school friend, Kozelek’s girlfriend, a run-in with his dad and a friend who died of cancer, all over a relatively simple musical backing, joined by a string part halfway through with some help from Peter Broderick. It feels important, like it matters, a song Mark Kozelek HAD to write.
It’s a long long way from Medicine Bottle or Katy Song (from Kozelek’s Red House Painters days) and it may be just be a dalliance for Kozelek with this kind of sound. But Jimmy LaValle frames his vocals with music unlike anything Mark Kozelek has released on before. Often jarring, yet interesting, at other times, transcendent.