Review Summary: You gotta have a vague rock song in your catalog that everyone can sing along.
It’s difficult to assess the greatness of “War On Drugs: Suck My Cock” in retrospect, understanding that were it not for that humorous ode to, ‘all you rednecks
,’ that can, ‘shut the fuck up
,’ we wouldn’t be in the position today of having to listen to Mark Kozelek transform his variety of miserable Americana into an avant-garde, dad rap fiasco. Although originally a one-off joke, Kozelek’s curmudgeonly behaviour gave way to one of his best songs, fusing his downbeat, worn out folk to lyrics acting as an indictment of coastal liberalism’s worst instincts. Unfortunately, as opposed to the nuanced storytelling and subtlety of Benji
, this mode of modernist, narcissistic rambling came to bear the greatest influence on Kozelek’s compositions yet and, as in Universal Themes
, he eventually abandoned the pretence of singing altogether. Not that this made for bad songs or albums, per se; instead it made Sun Kil Moon far more frustrating, difficult, and cantankerous fare, motivated by solipsistic observations rather than worldly affairs. Despite some course correction, Kozelek's still the same songwriter he's always been, acting with as much humour, insight, and drama as he does error.
True to form, Common As Light And Love Are Red Valleys Of Blood Red
is a two-hour, stream of consciousness trip across Trump’s America, David Bowie, and internet hoaxes. Far from Universal Themes
- or even Kozelek’s work with Justin Broadrick, which supplanted traditional balladry in favour of shoegaze- this feels like Sun Kil Moon’s purest moment yet. Musically, Kozelek and his revolving-door lineup of session musicians provide a certain discreteness that allows Kozelek’s words ample space to explore the minutiae of the mundane. However, as the album progresses across its generous runtime, stories become grating, and the digestible becomes unpalatable. In part, this long slide towards spoken-word delivery originated in some form on Among the Leaves
, where Kozelek began singing in a lower register, and his words became slightly more entangled in references and other random specifics. But, by way of an album like Benji
, it culminated in songs like “Carissa;” a tender, loving portrait of bizarre and unjust situation; importantly, it also took the shape of a contemporary folk song. Here though, the lyrical particulars have been expanded upon at the cost of the music itself. Though the sort of geographic and societal detail he gives to Portugal and Ohio are akin to James Joyce in depth and understanding, they can become grating when rambled over plodding, minimalist folk extending well beyond the 10-minute mark.
Part of the ongoing issue with Kozelek’s music is that, devoid of recognizable melody and so heavily indebted to narrative, there’s very little room for accessibility. Of course, one might argue that this is inherently not a problem, and in fact Sun Kil Moon is suppose to alienate so that it can thrive on its own mode of storytelling, and to an extent that is true. But, given the success that is album opener “God Bless Ohio,” an at least semi-accessible detailing of middle-American realness and, ‘walks along the path of the Tuscarawas Street
,’ it can be jarring when Kozelek simply devolves into long-winded diatribes, as in the monological breaks of “I Love Portugal” and “Philadelphia Cop.” Still, the likes of “Vague Rock Song” and “Seventies TV Show Theme Song” make the second disc utterly essential, whilst some of Kozelek’s verbosity renders prettier moments duller. In an interview with Conor Oberst, Kozelek says that he is, ‘a realist and I don’t take life for granted.
’ It explains his eye for detail and knack for storytelling, filling every bar with a graceful necessity that would be more becoming of the written-word. As a writer of the English language, Kozelek gets perfect marks; as a writer of songs, the jury is still out.