Perils from the Sea will give you chills the first time you hear it. By the fifth or sixth listen, you’ll want to have a box of Kleenex handy. “1936” is about a kid who steals a collectible coin from his mother, only to discover that its real value was the priceless memory it gave the woman of her dead dad. “Gustavo” is about a man who hires an illegal immigrant, then laments his decision not to lend him a hand in the worker’s time of need.
Perils from the Sea, a surprisingly absorbing collaboration between Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon frontman Mark Kozelek and Album Leaf mastermind Jimmy Lavelle, sounds exactly as one might imagine. Kozelek's richly detailed, impressionistic lyrics and laconic delivery, when paired with Lavelle's barebones bedroom electro-pop, are as engaging as they are impossibly lonesome, sounding on occasion like Kid A filtered through a Pacific Northwest skylight. Released on Kozelek's own Cobra Verde label and credited to Sun Kil Moon and the Album Leaf, the 10-track collection feels less like a product and more like an accidently overheard musical conversation between two of indie rock's most enigmatic personas.
Some musicians just don’t want their music played in daytime. Sure, you can play them when the sun is shining, but they keep most of their secrets hidden till it sets. The National’s Boxer, Sigur Ros’ Agaetis Byrjun, Radiohead’s Kid A—these all reveal themselves in full glory only when the moon hangs in the sky. But then there are some bands, some artists that take the extra step and insist upon keeping their treasures close to the chest until you’re just laying in your bedroom, staring at the darkened ceiling.
Has Mark Kozelek ever written a truer or more succinct description of his creative process than “Ceiling Gazing”? “Layin’ in my bed ceiling gazing/ Wide awake with jet lag from Australia,” he sings on the standout from Perils from the Sea, his new collaboration with Album Leaf founder Jimmy Lavalle. As a churchly organ repeats an insistently ascending phrase, Kozelek describes the stack of mail that awaited him after a tour, including “a wedding invitation from a new young relative I never even knew of. ” The card sets his mind reeling around his family tree, until it alights on memories of his sister.
Perils From the Sea comes about five years too late. I make this assertion for a pair of reasons. Perils is a collaborative album, one that splits the difference between Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek and the Album Leaf’s Jimmy Lavalle so neatly in half it may have been made on perforated paper. It seems about five years too late firstly because it’s been about five years since those two names drew a crowd, unfair as that may be.