Release Date: May 29, 2012
Record label: Caldo Verde Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
On Among The Leaves, Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek revels in the succulent melancholy of sad autumn evenings in the backseat, garlanded with the shadow words of life’s heaviness, clearly woven by a master of spiritual spelunking. Listen to the deep, goosebump-inducing desolation of “Elaine,” or the oil-painted generosity of emotional detail in “Song for Richard Collopy,” and try not to feel the grit sticking sweetly to your eyelids…or are those tears? .
Former Red House Painter Mark Kozelek has, over 20-odd years, become something of a slacker iteration of Leonard Cohen, ruminating on unrequited desire with a dolorous thrum of a voice and an increasing mastery of classical guitar. He can still drag tears from hardened hacks with his Song for Richard Collopy, a threnody for his late guitar restorer, whose devastation lies in its affectionate detail. The ridiculous life of a working musician is a recurring theme here, as Kozelek lays into the indignity of bad gigs, the unattractiveness of his fans and "fucking shuttle buses".
Review Summary: Mark Kozelek is back, whether he likes it or notAmong the Leaves is Mark Kozelek’s “Fuck it” album, even more so than those shitty cover albums he was pumping out a decade or so ago. What I mean by that is that it’s his first album of his where you can tell he just doesn’t care whatsoever about the reaction or backlash he’s going to receive. This, right here, is Kozelek pointedly not as the expert storyteller of Ghosts of the Great Highway, or the depressive romantic of April, or the ruminative sage of Admiral Fell Promises.
Spanish guitar music has a meditative and serpentine quality. Evergreen sourpuss Mark Kozelek has been enchanted with this particular strain of folk music since 2010's musical travelogue Admiral Fell Promises. That album possesed a fairly basic recording setup, a style that Among the Leaves continues in stride. It's just Kozelek, a Ramirez classical guitar and occasionally a Yamaha Flamenco guitar.
Mark Kozelek, the mastermind of Sun Kil Moon, and ex of the seminal '90s act Red House Painters, is a progenitor of what went on to be known as slowcore music. Kozelek sadly never got his due during his prior band's heyday, but there's been something of a renaissance of appreciation lately. Jens Lekman has been known to cover the Red House Painters' classic "Katy Song"; he's the most noteworthy of a multitude of modern artists expressing appreciation towards "Crazy Koz," as he was affectionately nicknamed on the Mojave 3 fete of the same name from Excuses for Travellers.
Minimalism isn't a word you'd think to apply to Mark Kozelek's fifth album as Sun Kil Moon: As noted in our interview with the man last week, it's 17-songs-long (plus a five-song bonus disc with alt and live versions of album tracks), and boasts titles such as "I Know It's Pathetic But That Was the Greatest Night of My Life", "The Moderately Talented Yet Attractive Young Woman vs. the Exceptionally Talented Yet Not So Attractive Middle Aged Man", and "Not Much Rhymes With Everything's Awesome at All Times". Among the Leaves is the opposite of the emo navel-gazing session that those titles might imply, but in terms of sheer volume and loquacity, the record certainly feels like the work of a songwriter clearing his palate: It's a fairly cathartic, sprawling creative outpouring.
The first time someone showed me Mark Kozelek’s tunes, it was like an audio orgasm. The friend told me, “If you want to seduce someone, put on Sun Kil Moon.” And for the earlier stuff, this is definitely true. Not that I’ve tried. But I have regarded SKM’s Tiny Cities as a standby bachelorette party gift for girlfriends for whom I don’t feel comfortable buying lingerie.
Mark Kozelek released his first album, with Red House Painters, 20 years ago, and for most of those two decades he’s been hitting us with hushed, maudlin songs that ripple out unapologetically with an often all-encompassing sadness. At least until now. Among the Leaves, his fifth record under the Sun Kil Moon name, is his most curious release to date.
An album as tour diary, with a little bit of reminiscing mixed in for good measure, Among the Leaves finds Mark Kozelek as glumly introspective as ever. It’s an effort that comes across as both spare and overstuffed, a loose collection of short sketches, stories, and recollections stretched across 17 acoustic tracks and clocking in at over an hour. It’s a lot to deal with, and the material never feels terribly organized or immediate, but the intensity of Kozelek’s lyrical sentiment and the quiet acuity of his observations keep the album on an even keel.
The fifth outing for Mark Kozelek under the Sun Kil Moon moniker follows in the quiet footsteps of 2010's excellent Admiral Fell Promises. Looser and less polished than its predecessor, Among the Leaves finds Kozelek in a mercilessly nostalgic mood, especially on the first three tracks, which play out like a post-rock & roll Lothario trilogy, looking back on a life spent in transit, full of missed connections ("I Know It's Pathetic But That Was the Greatest Night of My Life ") and disparate places ("Sunshine in Chicago") that trigger powerful emotional cues ("Moderately Talented Yet Attractive Young Woman vs. the Exceptionally Talented Yet Not so Attractive Middle Aged Man") that grow dimmer with each year.
That line right there, referring to the nostalgic glory of Mark Kozelek’s time fronting 90’s slowcore pioneers Red House Painters, appears less than five minutes into the new Sun Kil Moon record, Among the Leaves. Less than five minutes, and I have already laughed twice. At least two separate times I have chuckled to myself, and there are still 15 songs to go.
Sun Kil MoonAmong the Leaves[Caldo Verde; 2012]By Brendan Frank; June 1, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGMark Kozelek is personally responsible for some of the slowest music that I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. Despite their snail-on-a-turtle’s-back tempo, Red House Painters could gently pummel you with the glacial power of their music, and they were seldom boring. Kozelek’s new(er) project Sun Kil Moon has been guilty of mediocrity in the past, but never quite like they are on Among the Leaves.