Release Date: Feb 19, 2013
Record label: Caldo Verde Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
The concept behind Mark Kozelek’s new record—take metal songs, punk songs, classic-rock and pop songs and deliver ’em slow and soft, accompanied only by stripped-nekkid acoustic guitar—is really kind of unimaginative. As if a piece of music automatically becomes deeper or more interesting simply because it’s presented with a contrarian arrangement. Besides, it’s been done to death.
Cover songs can be tricky, and entire albums composed solely of covers are trickier yet. As with his best-known album of Modest Mouse covers as Sun Kil Moon, Mark Kozelek’s latest takes a variety of songs (Descendents, Sonny and Cher) and reworks them into occasionally unrecognizable versions. Fans of the originals may find these versions completely irrelevant, but for those interested in Kozelek’s body of work, it’s an interesting collection that lends itself equally well to both intellectual deconstruction and simply listening.
"So I spent all yesterday hanging out by myself," says Mark Kozelek between songs on his new live album. "Went out last night... by myself. Spent today... by myself. It's alright. I spend a lot of time by myself." This might be one of the more revealing moments on any Kozelek/Sun Kil Moon/Red House ….
What can’t Mark Kozelek do with a song? After more than 20 years fronting legendary sad sacks Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon, Kozelek, through his stripped-down, honest songwriting approach, has demonstrated an uncanny ability to cut straight through the bullshit and get at the core of what’s real. But while Kozelek’s original material has earned him a reputation as one of the most unflinching songwriters of his generation, his ability to unlock the sentimental riches in other people’s work further cements his ability to find the heart of a song. Like Rats, a diverse collection of 13 covers from various artists spanning numerous genres, puts Kozelek’s knack for musical reinvention to a vexing test, but in the end he passes with flying colors.
Sun Kil Moon's 2010-released fourth full LP, Admiral Fell Promises, was their first effort that sounded exclusively like a Mark Kozelek solo record. What may then have been an anomaly has since become de rigueur in Kozelek's oeuvre: a neatly plucked, nylon-stringed acoustic guitar, that distinctive voice... and nothing else. Perhaps it's telling, then, that the charmingly titled Like Rats is released under his own name; the sprawling weightiness that was to be found on earlier Sun Kil Moon—and indeed Red House Painters—albums, loaded with electric guitar and songs whose beauty was rooted in their epic scale, has gone by the wayside and with them the need for any pretense of the same artistic goals.