Mark Kozelek has recorded his latest album under his Sun Kil Moon band name, after his last two successful collaborations. That doesn’t mean his collaboration days are over, here he enlists Will Oldham on backing vocals, Steve Shelley (ex Sonic Youth) on drums (though few of the tracks employ them) and pianist Chis Connolly from Desertshore.
This album has received possibly the best reviews of his career. After several listens, it’s difficult to understand why. It’s a lengthy, extremely wordy album, focusing mainly on Kozelek’s guitar and a truly incredible set of song lyrics, which read not so much as song lyrics but entries from Kozelek’s personal diaries, mainly focusing on death and loss, but also on some of his deeply personal childhood experiences. In other words, this is his midlife crisis album.
Carissa opens like a standard issue Kozelek clean-picking pretty guitar song from any time in the last fourteen years or so with morbid lyrics concerning the main subject (Carissa) and an untimely death. Anybody who enjoyed some of the prettier moments from April and Admiral Fell Promises will find plenty to appreciate in the studied, deliberate guitar flourishes of I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love, though the lyrics will divide listeners.
Truck Driver, concerning an uncle’s death has a darkly compelling melody but he comes close to losing it all with the bawled vocals on Dogs, concerning, yes, his teenage carnal exploits. Here it’s impossible to get beyond the admittedly raw lyrics which leave absolutely nothing to the imagination. Perhaps that’s the point.
It’s not all bound up in the personal, Pray For Newtown contains his reflections on various human catastrophes, such as Sandy Hook and Norway, while later his half-assed, drawled vocals on Richard Ramirez Died Today Of Natural Causes reference another serial killer over relentlessly picked guitars. I Love My Dad has a much needed uptempo feel, breaking up the album but the track struggles to overcome trite lyrics, verse after verse starting with “when I was young” and a chorus which merely repeats the song title.
The ten minute long I Watched The Film The Song Remains The Same succeeds for the very reason much of the rest of the album struggles – the lyrics. Here we get a dense exploration of his discovery of the more melancholy side of Led Zeppelin over picked guitars which hark back to Red House Painters material such as Trailways. Deeply personal, to be sure. But at least, in this instance, if you don’t buy into the references one can at least appreciate them, unlike his other songs about dying relatives, his parents, and teenage conquests.
Towards the end of the album, the sound takes an upbeat turn, Micheline is enhanced by Chris Connolly’s gorgeous piano, while Ben’s My Friend ends the album on an almost incongruously chirpy note. Featuring a full band, the track throws cold light on Kozelek’s lyrics by repeating refrains (“blue crab cakes”, “sport bar shit”) before an 80s soft-rock horn solo comes in midsong. Strangely, it works.
However none of this is much of an improvement from lesser entries in his recent back catalogue, the likes of Among The Leaves, or Like Rats. Maybe it’s something of a purging of the soul, almost a confession? Let’s hope so, as the alternative is that Mark Kozelek is disappearing into a void of his own insular references.
2. I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love
3. Truck Driver
5. Pray For Newtown
6. Jim Wise
7. I Love My Dad
8. I Watched The Film The Song Remains The Same
9. Richard Ramirez Died Today Of Natural Causes
11. Ben’s My Friend
Micheline (Live in Aveiro)
Richard Ramirez (Live in Goteborg)
I Love You Dad (Live in Copenhagen)
I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love (Live in London)
Truck Driver (Live in Leamington Spa)