Review Summary: Mark Kozelek: Man or myth?
To say that Mark Kozelek is an emotional man is probably the understatement of the millennium. For a great deal of my own life, I had a vague idea of who he was, and that was the old, sexist loud-mouth who fronted some weird folk band. I had always had a very vague knowledge of the Red House Painters, since they were for some reason lumped with Codeine and various other "slowcore" bands. But, I still really have no idea where such a comparison comes from; Codeine literally numbs you, whereas Red House Painters managed to break most of us on a much more personal level. Not to discount other bands of this type, but Kozelek and co. had something else. The point though, is that I had no idea Kozelek was also the mastermind behind Red House Painters. Coincidentally, one day I was in a record store, and I had always heard that their debut, Down Colorful Hill
, was one of the most devastating albums I will ever hear. I bought it for that reason alone, after weeks prior, soulseek had failed me when actually struggling to download it. An obsession began.
I didn't really get them entirely on first listen, but I could tell that there was a ton of substance there, musically and lyrically. Through subsequent listens, it became one of the most treasured albums in my collection, and I can honestly say it's my favorite of everything they've done. Perhaps what blew my mind most though, was that this was their fu
cking demo. I knew 4AD had done this before (released a band's demo as their debut), but I was not used to this kind of quality being attached to the word demo. But, of course, Down Colorful Hill
was a more polished version of the demo (which by the way, is 90 minutes long.) So, surely the demo must not be as good as that album was, right? Well, I'd honestly say it's up there with Rollercoaster
The demo opens with "24," which of course opens Down Colorful Hill
as well. As to be expected, the demo is lo-fi, but it still feels incredibly dense and textured. There wasn't a point on this demo where I found it unlistenable purely because of the fidelity; in some places, it even seemed to help. On the demo, there are a variety of songs that were rerecorded years later (i.e. Funhouse, Evil, Uncle Joe, and Strawberry Hill), and songs that were never given a better release. These early versions of songs are for the most part, almost as good as their rerecorded counterparts. The climax on Funhouse in particular, is in some ways more rewarding than the one that made it to Rollercoaster
. The original version of "Strawberry Hill" might be one of the most aggressive and creepy things the band ever did, with Mark's manic vocals that border on shouting and pure screaming, and the clangy guitar parts that remind one of really early-Sonic Youth. The greatest gems though, are the songs that were never given proper release.
The most commonly heard of these tracks is "Waterkill," which is probably the closest the band ever came to doing goth rock. The guitar parts intertwine perfectly with Mark's unsettling vocal melodies, to create an atmosphere that can only be compared to drowning on a foggy day or some other corny s
hit like that. "Heart Attack" is another noteworthy song, being the shortest song in the band's entire catalog, and also one of the weirdly happiest tracks. It honestly just seems like a Smiths parody or something, being in a lounge style and just ending so suddenly. What I haven't mentioned though, is the weirdly high production value that's on this demo. The instrumentation on these tracks is just beautiful, with beautiful chorus-y guitars, lovely reverb-y vocals, strings, pretty piano, etc. I almost hesitate to call this a demo for that reason, since I wouldn't hesitate to call this the best thing they've done. Yes, I said it.
Despite being 90 minutes long, the demo goes by at a very relaxed pace and doesn't even really feel over-long. It's a real shame some of these songs were never given a better recording or restored like they were for their debut, since some of them are among the best in their entire catalog. These include "Waterkill," "Headsore," and that early version of "Funhouse." I'm not going to lie, I get really excited when a band's demo is this good, purely for the inspiration factor. It's pretty amazing that this band had only existed for a year or two, and had actually made a masterpiece already. It's rare to be a band for 10 years and even get one "Medicine Bottle" or "24." Mark may be losing it today, but sometimes I just pretend he stopped around Benji
, and that this is what we have left. I guess oldness really did come to rile. Yeah...