Mark Kozelek

Mark Kozelek

Caldo Verde

May 14, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


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One of the truly great and largely overlooked songwriters of our times, Mark Kozelek has walked a truly different path since his Sun Kil Moon masterpiece Benji back in 2014. Having crafted a new, detailed, diaristic, half spoken-word style that broke away from the trademark baritone croon of the past, he led Sun Kil Moon to further experimentation on Universal Themes (2015) and the sometimes impenetrable Common As Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood (2017). Live shows saw Kozelek step out as a "frontman" for the first time, rapping, screaming himself hoarse over a jagged, near post-rock backing band, yielding uneven, but often awe-inspiring results.

Here we have Kozelek's debut album proper under his own name (discounting cover albums, live records, and collaborative LPs) on which he plays everything aside from a single drum take from Steve Shelley. It seems a bold if self-absorbed choice and, early on, we get the impression that we're in for an album of pure ego indulgence. Kozelek celebrates himself for paying for a stranger's meal on trivial opener "This Is My Town," talks about shadow boxing with weights on the vaguely embarrassing "Live In Chicago," and there are numerous mentions of encounters with female fans who are duly impressed by him ("Oh my God I just fucked my favorite lead singer" being the worst of the offending lyrics). His voiceover delicate, beautiful solo guitar parts-sounds rough, cracked and tired-as does his songwriting; there are more mentions of what he has for dinner and what number flight he was once on than you could care to count.

Yet, on songs like the 13-minute plus "My Love for You Is Undying" we get a memorable, gentle melody and a very funny story of Kozelek's ego being pricked by a careless book store employee. He's able to laugh at himself here and, endearingly, literally does so, attempting to stifle a snigger as he recounts his story. Suddenly, you're moved-"When I stop caring is when I'm dead inside" he notes, and it's the first of several, surprising, tear-inducing moments.

Business picks up further on the bizarre, genuinely fun "Weed Whacker," Kozelek mocking himself for his Sun Kil Moon rapping ("Who do you think you are? LL Cool J?"), and the slight, music box sound of "Good Nostalgia", his vocalizing seemingly improving as the record goes on, the song closing with a simple repetition of "I love you." It's gorgeous, sad, and shining, like the finest of his songs.

There's a little more fun on "666 Post," which boasts not only a notable riff but animal noises galore and "Sublime" which, with it's sliding, repeated chorus could be confused for a pop song.

While "The Banjo Song" offers high, sweet Neil Young-isms (but zero banjos) it meanders past the 12-minute mark with little fanfare as it ambles to its end. Closer "I Cried During Wall Street" details Kozelek's love for his father and notes "I hate goodbyes" over a luscious, lonesome guitar. It's nakedly honest, truly connected and, for an instant, all is forgiven. The tears prick, you delve inside yourself, and Kozelek's words and sonorous voice reflect back.

Mark Kozelek is by no means a masterwork, nor is it the overwrought disaster it threatened to be, but instead another collection of songs from someone who just cannot stop writing, cannot stop releasing and, more often than not, hits the emotional marks he aims at, in however scattershot a way. Kozelek isn't one to self-censor or even edit, it seems, but navigating through the trivia and seemingly unconscious arrogance can still yield some profoundly impressive results. (www.sunkilmoon.com)

Author rating: 7/10

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