Review Summary: A harrowing and difficult listen. The Red House Painters debut is a strong and rewarding album which shows a band progressing towards full maturity earlier than most of there contemporaries.
Provided with minimal over dubbing and the dampened reverb of the bands early demo sessions, The Red House Painters first LP, "Down Colorful Hill" is given a distinct and haunting sound. Despite it's songs being collected from early demo tapes Mark Kozelek and his band mates are assured and confident with there performances. Even though keeping to languid pacing through out most of the records 43 minutes (and with just six songs) the themes tackled and Kozelek’s cynical persona keeps things afloat. Kozelek delivers bleak and autobiographical statements of subjects ranging from the fear of aging (24) to a best friends fall into adult delinquency (Michael) Opening and bookending the album superbly, these songs are probably the least cryptic and disturbing of the material the record has to offer.
The bands musicianship is of a high rate and Kozelek does a fine job at including influences, using the chiming guitars of R.E.M and the atmospheric and eclectic pacing of fellow Sad Core lynch pins, American Music Club. The music also has hidden complexions. There is an effective use of dissonance in the backing guitar for the records only lively song Lord Kill the Pain and the albums first flat out masterpiece: the epic, almost 10 minutes long, Medicine Bottle. Medicine bottle is probably the most relatable song here, dealing with romantic co-dependency and the struggle to hold down the emotions it brings. All six songs offer a distinct character narrative which probably peaks with the title tracks bleak and disappointed resignation.
Whilst "Down Colorful Hill" is an emotionally honest record and a highly consistent one at that (there's not a dud in the lot) it can also prove to be a draining and nihilistic experience. Kozelek's tormented yet gracefully sang words can suck you in and effect your mood in a less than positive manner. Depending on what your looking for in one sitting this may be to much of a task to handle, which may be the records most noticeable flaw. However those willing to endure the records punishing scope of subjects will find it to be a very cathartic and rewarding experience, even if they cant instantly give it a repeated listen.
Kozelek would return a year later to offer in my opinion, was his strongest record - the self titled release, later known as "Rollercoaster". That record may appeal to a more accepting audience but Down Colorful Hill retains the blue print for almost all of Kozelek's future releases and it should be essential to those interested in sampling or following the Sad Core genre.