Review Summary: My grandma my grandma my grandma my grandma my grandma my grandma
Mark Kozelek has been unusually prolific as of late. In the past few years, he’s put out a multitude of collaborations and solo material that seems to keep coming out of nowhere. And while the high output is appreciated from a man in his mid-forties and now two decades strong in the music business, it’s also come with a distinct change in composition. His songs are no longer the lyrically complicated and rhythmically mesmerizing epics that punctuated his days with the Red House Painters and his masterpiece Ghosts of the Great Highway.
He seems to be having a midlife crisis of sorts, in that he is feeling the irreversible effects of aging, and it reflects in his music, showing up bluntly in lyrics like “Havin' to pee 50 times a day is bad enough, got a naggin’ prostate and I got a bad back.” But it also has influence in the songwriting process itself. In a recent interview, Kozelek pointed out that (and I’m paraphrasing here) he’s 45 and he has better things to do than spend all day in the studio finding the perfect snare drum sound.
The effects of weariness are clearly present, as Benji
sees Kozelek continue to develop a sort of rambling, low pitched delivery that he’s been using since Among the Leaves, accompanied by his distinctive fingerpicking that now seems to have adopted a similar attitude of quiet meandering. This attitude of complicity would be enough to ruin most songwriters, but Kozelek somehow makes it work, despite the occasional failure. The opener "Carissa" for example is one of the most beautifully sad songs that I've heard in a long time, a heartfelt requiem for a distant relative that takes full advantage of his new stream of consciousness style storytelling. “Jim Wise,” a simple sing-song about visiting his dad’s friend under house arrest backed by what sounds like an electronic xylophone is inexplicably captivating.
That said, Benji
also has a few songs that are tremendously hurt by Kozeleks songwriting. When the atmosphere falls flat, they tend to sound underdeveloped and lazy. One of the biggest problems that comes up in the weaker songs on the album is their heavily reliance on straight forward exposition rather than cleverly worked lyrics that really fit the music. Kozelek is so intent on telling stories that he seems to want to sing them as he would write prose so as not to leave anything out, and as a result the melodies on many of the songs are afterthoughts to the fast paced anecdotes.
is an unusual record. It is inconsistent and unpredictable, but there are also frequent moments of brilliance when Kozelek is able to capture his stories and settings with anecdotal lyrics -- when the bleak themes are complemented beautifully by the quietly paced fingerpicking and Kozelek’s even, nostalgic drone. He’s telling outlandish stories in the most mundane way possible, because that’s how he sees the world now. When everyone else remembers when the caught the Night Stalker, Kozelek remembers when a man named Richard Ramirez died of natural causes.
The beauty in writing is often in the implicit way meaning is hidden and still understood, and when it becomes too straightforward it can almost seem bland. But Mark Kozelek seems to think that there is beauty in simplicity; in people and in stories, and he wants to sing about them.