Review Summary: Mark Kozelek is back, whether he likes it or not
Among the Leaves is Mark Kozelek’s “Fuck it” album, even more so than those shitty cover albums he was pumping out a decade or so ago. What I mean by that is that it’s his first album of his where you can tell he just doesn’t care whatsoever about the reaction or backlash he’s going to receive. This, right here, is Kozelek pointedly not as the expert storyteller of Ghosts of the Great Highway, or the depressive romantic of April, or the ruminative sage of Admiral Fell Promises. Instead, Among the Leaves is notable for the bitterness and resignation of Kozelek’s lyrics; for the first time, Kozelek’s erratic and standoffish personality onstage shines through on record. Those looking for something akin to “Duk Koo Kim” are going to be very disappointed, but, once having adjusted to the frank and caustic lyrics, Kozelek’s newest ends up actually being his most entertaining record to date, offering a raw and personal account of life as the tragically unappreciated songwriter.
Of course, this being how Kozelek sees himself. (There is a song on here called “The Moderately Talented Yet Attractive Young Woman vs. The Exceptionally Talented Yet Not So Attractive Middle Aged Man,” for cripes sake, Kozelek firmly casting himself as the latter.) A common theme of Among the Leaves is the scorn Kozelek feels towards touring and the people he tours for, how the bumps and bruises of nonstop touring start to wear on a forty-five year old, the fact that he’s performing for overweight dudes that spend too much time on the Internet instead of the hot chicks that supposedly came to his concerts in the 90s, etc. Like, how much Europe sucks. And so on.
At first, listening to Kozelek bitch and moan can be jarring and sort of insulting, in a way, to the listeners, the “guys in tennis shoes” that still go to Kozelek’s concerts so he can make more albums. Yet further listens reveal deeper shades of Kozelek’s lyrics, as well as his penchant for awkward and dark humor that makes his concerts so disasterous (usually). Kozelek’s actually more self-effacing than he initially seems to be: he offsets his arrogance about his musical abilities with the harsh truths of his getting older in “Sunshine in Chicago,” and when he mocks the mind-numbing plight of the office drone, as he does in “That Bird Has A Broken Wing” (“I know you’re hating me pretty bad/But I at least I ain’t some tool named Brad/up at 7, home by 5/hasn’t gotten it up since wintertime”), there remains the uneasy, underlying fact that these men at least have things like wives, children, security.
Kozelek, instead, continues to live as he always has, constantly traveling (“UK Blues”), embarrassingly hooking up with unattractive women (“That Bird Has A Broken Wing”), reserving the most sympathy and emotion for the guy who makes his guitars (“Song for Richard Collopy”). The latter song is proof that Kozelek isn’t a bad guy – in it, Kozelek describes his affection for an old, wizened guitar maker, and sadness for his death – but touring and broken promises and failed relationships have forced him into depression and bitterness, which has resulted in this album. Among the Leaves lays bare the minutiae and day-to-day happenings of Mark Kozelek’s life, and how he’s learned to hate and yet live with his peculiar position on Earth, being the first real departure for the artist after years of mired in repetition. It’s about time he broke free.