Review Summary: A tepid work with a thoughtful heart, one vaguely beating behind mumbles and programmed beats.Perils from the Sea
is a collaboration that is constructed simply, and describing it is even simpler: imagine the slowcore of Red House Painters evoked with a ”folktronica” backdrop, a moody foundation over which Mark Kozelek provides voiceovers of his life’s mundanities. Jimmy LaValle has schemed out a fresh setting for Kozelek’s storytelling here – tinkering beats, ominous synthlines, sullen guitar chords – yet the result is frustratingly humdrum. He commits to slowcore at the expense of active engagement, as elements are rendered linearly with an inbuilt resistance to change. But it will work for some listeners: fans of Red House Painters will appreciate the nod to that era in Kozelek’s history, on the condition that they are open to LaValle’s laptop electronics. Everyone else will have to endure the stiffness of this minimalistic do-over, eight minutes at a time. Expect patience to be tested, regardless of which camp you fall in.
The shift in Kozelek’s outlook on making music has been disheartening and is forcefully so on this album. Where the folk musician once labored on his songwriting, passionately weaving arrangements on Ghosts…
, he effectively retired on Among the Leaves
, dryly mocking his career in songs that self-effaced as often as they self-referenced. Now he’s released Perils from the Sea
, which features barely any songwriting at all: stories are recited as if they are spoken word, tracks concluding at the end of the lyric sheet. Simple melodies steer the words in rhythm, and the tracks plod along from there, LaValle matching the nonchalance with the unshifting backdrop. The silky croons of April
that harmonized tenderly with melodic guitarwork are long gone: Kozelek now mumbles through his stories with unnerving disregard.
I guess it’s to his favor that his narratives are interesting when they catch the ear: “Gustavo” details companionship with an illegal immigrant, support that is reluctantly cut after the man is deported. “I hung up and my heart was heavy
,” Kozelek confesses, as he chillingly recollects Gustavo’s request for a money transfer through a payphone south of the border. Tuning into Kozelek’s words is fruitful, but they are often lost to dreary presentation. That this artist has lost faith in songwriting lets down his penned material, one of the more depressing acknowledgements to be had with Perils from the Sea
. Overall, this collaboration feels lukewarm, the product of exchanged emails rather than a wholehearted connection between two artists. I hope dearly that Kozelek regains faith in his music; I’ve unfortunately had to let go of mine in his.