San Francisco's Red House Painters, an acoustic quartet led by introverted poet Mark Kozelek, penned the depressed mantras of Down Colorful Hill (1992): shy guitars that played chords as if they were reciting rosaries, and moribund dirges that seemed to end before beginning but then lasted for eternity, created quietly unnerving atmospheres that blurred the border between sorrow and ecstasy. Like with the music of Leonard Cohen, Tim Buckley and Nick Drake , the effect was both subdued and majestic, a contradiction that became the quintessence of their art. The demo-quality of those recordings contributed to the sense of philosophical melancholy, but Red House Painters (1993), also known as Rollercoaster, revealed a much lighter and brighter mood: rather than whining, Kozelek was contemplating the universe. Each song was a moment in time, an impressionistic watercolor. Ocean Beach (1995) brought even more life to the compositions, dispensing with the most austere elements of their slow acoustic chamber folk.
(Translated from the Italian by Troy Sherman)
Kozelek was one of the greatest poets of the rock music in the '90s. His
style, initially influenced by the school of folk-rock from San Francisco that
had been led by Catheads and had culminated with
the introverted style of American
was linked in reality to the more resigned and anti-spectacular songwriters of
the 60s: Leonard Cohen, Tim
Nick Drake (although Kozelek always supported the claim that he did not know
Nick Drake, and was instead inspired by John
Denver and Cat
those of his teachers, his stories are as resigned as they are universal, as
humble as they are metaphysical. In fact, the soft melancholy of this
humble, suburban coffee-shop storyteller hides an epic stateliness.
In the late '80s, Kozelek
(vocals, born in 1968 in Ohio, and later moving to Atlanta) formed the Red
House Painters, an acoustic quartet, with Mack Gordon (guitar) in San
Down Colorful Hill (4AD, 1992) brings
together six long compositions created two and three years before, songs which
are soft whimpers and prolonged sighs. The music is reduced to an absolute
minimum and sung in the voice of a sleepwalker. The creations are mantras,
confessional texts that slowly sink into an abysmal depression. The ten-minute Medicine
Bottle does not grant revenge against fate, but rather, little by
little, takes the meaning and vitality out of life. The guitar curls an
endless series of softly melodic agreements, as if it is almost afraid to stop
the agony of the rhythm and the song. This track, more than any, harks to the
dark lamentations of Morrissey. Songs such as 24 are
about as happy as the prayers of a dying man, yet are still fantastic.
The title track rises to almost martial rhythm, seemingly in hope of redeeming
all of the pain which is infused into the other songs. The maximum excitation
is found on Lord Kill the Pain, which is the only track that is filled
with music to any extent, mixing in a little folk rock and a bit of Lou
Red House Painters (4AD, 1993), also known
as Rollercoaster, is centered on four new long poems in the vein of the
previous record. The first of these four appearing on the album (the third
track) is the classic Katy Song, as
light and elegant as a feather falling from a tower. Its melody unfolds and
spirals slowly and beautifully, crowned by Gorden Mack's solo.
While Strawberry Hill is
distorted and shouted in a rare example of emotionalism, Mother limps
catatonically for thirteen minutes, and Funhouse seems to hang in a
dreamy trance, like reflections on water. These four huge tracks are slow
and trembling lullabies that lull the listener into their web of agreements and
words. They are handwritten remembrances of feelings, like magic moments stolen
at a specific time. Each note is in celebration and remembrance of the futility
Orbiting around these four cornerstone compositions are more concise and lively
(relatively speaking) tracks, such as Mistress, almost epic
comparison to the stasis of the others, or New Jersey , almost
a gospel a cappella. Impressionist watercolors like Grace Cathedral
Park, another summit of the band’s art, contain ineffable surface details,
marred by the whirlwind of life, and show a singer and writer always on the
verge of suicide.
The material excluded from
the previous disk (such as Evil) appears on the next disc, also
called Red House Painters (4AD, 1993).
Not since Chris
someone written songs of loneliness and failure like this, and not since Nick
Drake had anyone created such touching music with such little accompaniment.
Opened by a short
instrumental piece with rustic flavor, Cabezon, Ocean Beach (1995)
acts as a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. Although the
depression is still acute in pieces like Shadows (accompanied only
by an almost new age piano) and Brockwell Park, which seems to roam a
cemetery in the fashion of Nick Drake, one can find hope in places like the
disengaged and swinging country of Over My Head and San
Geronimo, which are unusually lively pop and even Celtic pieces, belonging
to a genus undoubtedly more optimistic. The slow and acoustic chamber folk
melody with emotion that distinguished the band emerges only in the brief
picture of Summer Dress.
The longest composition, Drop, is pointless to debate; it gives
more emphasis to the hypnotic and transcendental style, in which there is no
joy or sadness. Kozelek did not understand a lot about life, but he finally
figured out how to look at it with a detached eye.
Songs For A Blue Guitar (Supreme, 1996 - Plain
Recordings, 2009) is an album recorded almost live. It gives up the maniacal
precision of the previous recordings. Mark Kozelek let go, also showing that
the sound on this record is more masculine, although always anchored in his
voice and always reluctant to give way to percussion.
The effect of the increased spontaneity is curious: the disc is rooted in the
history of folk music. Have You Forgotten goes back to the
more traditional singer-songwriter, and the resigned tone, melodious but
majestic, converts the band into the mold of gentle rock singers such as Donovan (similar is Priest
Alley Song, containing just a trickle mellotron). The languid and
martial gospel of Song for a Blue Guitar echoes Knocking
on Heaven's Door by Bob
like Paper echoes Harvest by Neil
it is a real tribute to the art of the Canadian singer-songwriter’s guitar, complete
with the martial cadence and a neurotic guitar solo, for a total of twelve
minutes). I Feel The Rain Fall is an unusual experiment: it is
lively and jumping, as with New Orleans blues, and contains a lullaby melody
and folk rock strumming. Kozelek's music acts more and more as a bridge
between the Western folk and Eastern spiritualism. The transcendent
quality of his music is enhanced by the hypnotic strumming and the chanting of
Tibetan Trailways, as well as the guitar impressionism of Revelation
Big Sur, which is only a few steps from the new age music.
Songs for a Blue Guitar is the most ambitious
disc of Kozelek. Red House Painters is the most poetic, and Ocean
Beach is the most musical. Down Colorful Hill, albeit
brief and naive, remains the most original work.
Retrospective (4AD) contains one disc
of already published material and another of unreleased material. The second
disc serves only to raise the price of the anthology.
Mark Kozelek e' uno dei grandi poeti della musica rock degli anni '90.
Il suo stile, inizialmente avvicinato alla scuola folk-rock di San Francisco
che era stata capitanata dai Catheads ed
era culminata con lo stile introverso degli
American Music Club,
in realta` ai cantautori piu` dimessi e anti-spettacolari degli anni '60:
Leonard Cohen, Tim Buckley e Nick Drake (anche se Kozelek sosterra` sempre di
non conoscere Nick Drake e di essersi ispirato a John Denver e Cat Stevens).
Come quelle dei suoi maestri, le sue storie sono tanto dimesse quanto
universali, tanto umili quanto metafisiche.
In effetti la tenue malinconia di questo umile cantastorie da caffe` di
periferia nasconde un'epica maestosita`.
Verso la fine degli anni '80,
Kozelek (canto, classe 1968, gia' capitano dei God Forbid in Ohio, con cui poi
si sposto' ad Atlanta) formo` con Gordon Mack (chitarra) a San Francisco un
quartetto acustico, i Red House Painters.
Down Colorful Hill (4AD, 1992) raccoglie sei
lunghe composizioni di due e tre anni prima. Piu' che canzoni sono tenui
vagiti e lenti sospiri. La musica e' ridotta al minimo, cantata in maniera
sonnambula, al limite del mantra; e i testi confessionali sprofondano in una
depressione abissale. I dieci minuti di Medicine Bottle non concedono
rivincita contro il destino, tolgono alla vita poco alla volta il suo senso
e la sua vitalita'. La chitarra inanella interminabili collane di accordi
melodici, quasi timorosa di interrompere l'agonia del ritmo e del canto,
cupo da far rimpiangere i lamenti di Morrisey.
Canzoni come 24 sono tanto gaie e tanto vivaci quanto le preghiere di un
L'inno sterminato della title-track si leva a ritmo marziale a redimere quasi
tutto il dolore di cui sono intrise le altre canzoni.
Il massimo di eccitazione lo tocca pero' Lord Kill The Pain, in cui
finalmente si fa largo la musica, un po' di folkrock e un po' di Lou Reed.
Red House Painters (4AD, 1993), noto anche come Rollercoaster,
verte su a quattro nuovi poemi di quello stampo: la classica
Katy Song, leggera ed elegante come una piuma che cada da una torre, dipana
la sua melodia in volute da "lento" anni '50, coronata dall'assolo di Gordon Mack.
Se Strawberry Hill e' distorta e urlata, in un raro esempio di emotivita',
Mother arranca con cadenza catatonica per tredici minuti e Funhouse sembra
sospendersi trasognata in una trance di riflessi sull'acqua.
Sono lente e trepidanti cantilene che cullano l'ascoltatore nella loro
ragnatela di accordi e di parole, nella loro calligrafia di sensazioni
trattenute, nel loro vischio di momenti magici trafugati al tempo.
Ogni loro nota non fa che ricordare quanto sia futile vivere.
Attorno a quel sistema di riferimento si muovono composizioni concise
e vivaci (relativamente parlando) come Mistress, quasi epica al confronto
della stasi delle altre, o New Jersey, quasi un gospel a cappella;
acquarelli impressionisti come Grace Cathedral Park, altro vertice
della sua arte, che riescono
a portare a galla dettagli ineffabili dal turbinio della vita.
Sempre sull'orlo del suicidio.
Il materiale escluso da quel disco
(fra cui un'ottima Evil) figura su un disco successivo,
sempre intitolato Red House Painters (4AD, 1993).
Era dai tempi di Chris Isaak che qualcuno non scriveva inni di questo genere
alla solitudine e al fallimento. Era dal tempo di Nick Drake che qualcuno non
faceva musica con cosi' pochi mezzi.
Aperto da un breve strumentale di sapore campagnolo, Cabezon,
Ocean Beach (1995) lascia intravedere la luce alla fine del tunnel.
Nonostante la depressione sia ancora acuta su Shadows (accompagnato
soltanto da un pianoforte quasi new age) e Brockwell Park si aggiri nel
cimitero di Nick Drake, il country disimpegnato e swingante di
Over My Head e San Geronimo, insolitamente vivace e pop, persino
celtica, appartengono a un genere indubbiamente piu` ottimista.
Il lento e acustico folk da camera con melodia commossa che lo contraddistingueva
affiora soltanto nella breve fotografia di Summer Dress.
La composizione piu` lunga, Drop, rende inutile la discussione, propendendo
per uno stile ipnotico e trascendente in cui non trovano posto ne' gioia ne'
tristezza. Kozelek non ha forse capito molto della vita, ma ha finalmente capito
come guardarla con occhio distaccato.
Songs For A Blue Guitar (Supreme, 1996 -
Plain Recordings, 2009)
e` un album registrato quasi in
presa diretta, rinunciando alla precisione maniacale delle registrazioni
precedenti. Mark Kozelek si lascia andare, e lo dimostra anche il fatto che
il sound sia piu` maschio, benche' sempre ancorato alla sua voce e sempre
riluttante a dar spazio alle percussioni.
L'effetto della maggiore spontaneita` e` curioso: il disco e` radicato
nella storia della musica folk.
Have You Forgotten si riallaccia al cantautore piu` tradizionale,
quello dimesso e acustico, melodioso ma non maestoso, quello convertito al
rock da cantanti gentili come Donovan
(cosi` anche Priest Alley Song, con appena un filo di mellotron).
Il gospel languido e marziale di Song For A Blue Guitar riecheggia la Knocking On Heaven's Door di Bob Dylan.
Make Like Paper riecheggia l'Harvest di Neil Young (ed e` un vero
e proprio tributo all'arte chitarristica del cantautore canadese, con tanto di
cadenza marziale e assolo nevrotico di chitarra, per un totale di dodici minuti).
I Feel The Rain Fall e` invece un esperimento per loro insolito: un tempo
brioso e saltellante, come nei blues di New Orleans, una melodia da "lullaby",
e lo schitarrare del folk-rock.
La musica di Kozelek funge sempre piu` da ponte fra il folk e lo spiritualismo
orientale. La qualita` trascendente della sua musica viene esaltata dallo
strimpellio ipnotico e dal cantilenare tibetano di Trailways,
nonche' dall'impressionismo chitarristico di Revelation Big Sur,
a due passi dalla musica new age.
Songs For A Blue Guitar e` il disco piu` ambizioso di Kozelek, cosi`
come Red House Painters e` il piu` poetico e
Ocean Beach e` il piu` musicale.
Down Colorful Hill, pur breve e ingenuo, rimane il lavoro piu` originale.
Retrospective (4AD) e` un disco di composizioni gia` edite e un disco
di materiale inedito. Il secondo disco serve soltanto a far aumentare il prezzo
While Red House Painters' Old Ramon still remains in a limbo due
to litigations with the previous label,
Rock'N'Roll Singer (Badman, 2000),
the solo mini-album by Mark Kozelek
(four covers), tries in vain to repeat the charm of the early albums.
Find Me Ruben Olivares and Ruth Marie get close.
The next Kozelek EP is a reading of ten AC/DC songs,
What's Next To The Moon (Badman, 2001).
The single Duk Koo Kim (Vinyl, 2003) is a ten-minute psychedelic ode
in the vein of Tim Buckley.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da Carlo Crudele)
Mentre Old Ramon dei Red House Painters rimane ancora in un limbo per le beghe in corso con la etichetta discografica precedente, Rock'N'Roll Singer (Badman, 2000) il mini-album solo di Mark Kozelek (quattro covers), prova senza successo a replicare il fascino dei primi albums. Find Me Ruben Olivares e Ruth Marie ci vanno vicini.
L'EP seguente di Kozelek e` una rilettura di dieci brani degli AC/DC, What's Next To The Moon (Badman, 2001).
Red House Painters' long-delayed Old Ramon (Subpop, 2001), originally
recorded in the spring of 1998, finds the band in top form and Kozelek in an
existentially adult mood. The absorbed compositions of the album surround their
insinuating melodies with a magical, fantastic atmosphere, that lends the
music an almost spiritual quality.
The Indian-tinged lullaby Wop-A-Din-Din
(with a female chorus straight from the Pacific islands) recalls
Kevin Ayers' imaginary-exotic vignettes,
while the ecstatic vocal tone and dilated guitar licks of Void
(stretched over nine minutes) resemble the psychedelic psalms of
David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name.
Another nine-minute confession, Cruiser, proceeds at a slow, country
pace while the guitars jingle a free-form shuffle, the whole sounding like
a cross between Neil Young and Tim Buckley.
Eleven minutes of River present the same pattern in a
more electric format, crackling guitars lulling the singer's elongated wail
at a skewed waltz tempo, thereby bridging the gap between confessional auteurs
and Nirvana's lyrical grunge.
But, no matter how many references to the classics creep into the
cartilage and corrupt the skeleton, the flesh is uniquely Kozelek,
romantic and dreamy in an almost frightening manner,
stinking of metaphysical and personal insecurity,
rotting inside while it looks healthy outside.
Kozelek was deeply shaken by John Denver's death, and at least two of the
simpler, catchier songs remind us of the sweet country folksinger:
Michigan and Golden. The contrast with the lenghtier, tortured
pieces couldn't be starker.
The band rocks in the bass-heavy Byrd Joel, while Kozelek weaves
his hypnotic mantra, in the distorted, syncopated, Rolling Stones-inspired
boogie of Between Days. Just to prove that they know how to.
Overall, the mood is far less depressed than on the earlier albums, the
landscape has added colors to the black and white silhouettes of their
If some of the "poetry" has been lost, and the message is not as deep as it
used to be, the musical skills are just beginning to bloom.
The Red House Painters have become more musicians than painters.
Mark Kozelek's new project, Sun Kil Moon (featuring
Red House Painters' Anthony Koutsos, American Music Club's Tim Mooney, Geoff Stanfield), debuted with
Ghosts Of The Great Highway (Jetset, 2003), a work that closely resembles
Red House Painters' best moments and carefully shuns the cliches of its age.
The 14-minute cryptic Duk Koo Kim is the tour de force that best
interprets Kozelek's new existential mood. It opens as an hypnotic litany at
martial pace. Then its sound gets thicker and somewhat loose, turning solely
instrumental, with a string instrument tempering the dramatic edge, and then
the acoustic guitar and other instruments penning a delicate tapestry of tones.
Meanwhile, the delicate
Carry Me Ohio, Last Tide, Floating, Gentle Moon,
and the acoustic R.E.M.-ish ballad Glen Tipton,
are typical Kozelek fare.
Even the oddities, the upbeat Lily And Parrots and
the solemn and vibrant Salvador Sanchez, display the same kind of
Overall, Kozelek returns to his most
artistically successful spectrum of sounds, and does so with enough
self-awareness but no excess baggage to keep the proceedings from sounding
Sun Kil Moon's Tiny Cities (2005) was a collection of Modest Mouse
Little Drummer Boy (2007) documented live Kozelek performances.
Kozelek resurrected the moniker Sun Kil Moon (now de facto a solo project)
for April (Caldo Verde, 2008), a diligent excursion in the various subgenres of folk-rock, with a peak
of pathos in the ten-minute
Neil Young-esque distorted-guitar dirges
Tonight The Sky (over a Harvest-like pace but with a soaring refrain) and The Light (slower and noisier),
and a peak of soulful introversion in the ten-minute opener Lost Verses.
His pastoral acoustic alter-ego surfaces in the
The angelic, whispered Unlit Hallway, the desolate Blue Orchids,
and the bleak, obsessive atmosphere
Heron Blue show his dexterity to use the simplest of means to achieve
the maximum of emotional impact.
By comparison, Moorestown feels like an orchestral ballad. Even
the thin layer of strings that covers the nine-minute Tonight in Bilbao
feels like too much.
The players include drummer Anthony Koutsos, bassist Geoff Stanfield, violist Michi Aceret.
Old Ramon (Subpop, 2001), registrato originariamente fra l'autunno del
1997 e la primavera del 1998, e rimasto intrappolato in beghe contrattuali la
vecchia casa discografica, mostra i Red House Painters ancora in splendida
forma, e Kozelek in un umore sempre esistenziale ma piu` adulto.
Le composizioni intense di questo album circondano le loro subdole melodie
di atmosfere magiche e fantastiche, che conferiscono alla musica una qualita`
La favola indianeggiante Wop-A-Din-Din
(con un coro femminile delle isole pacifiche) fa venire in mente persino
le vignette esotiche di Kevin Ayers, mentre l'estasi vocale e le chitarre
dilatate di Void (spiegati nell'arco di nove minuti) riecheggiano
i salmi psichedelici di David Crosby.
Un'altra confessione di nove minuti, Cruiser, procede a un passo lento,
country, mentre le chitarre solfeggiano uno shuffle dimesso, e il tutto
sa contemporaneamente di Neil Young e di Tim Buckley.
Undici minuti di River presentano lo stesso schema in un formato piu`
elettrico, con chitarre scoppiettanti che cullano il vagito del cantante a un
tempo semi-valzer, e un ideale ponte steso con il grunge lirico dei
Kozelek rimase profondamente scosso dalla morte di John Denver, e almeno due
delle canzoni piu` semplici ne risentono:
Michigan e Golden. Il contrasto con i pezzi lunghi e torturati
non potrebbe essere piu` cupo.
Il complesso si concede piu` grinta in Byrd Joel e
Between Days (quasi i Rolling Stones), giusto per dimostrare che lo
Nel complesso, l'umore e` meno depresso che nei primi album, e il paesaggio
e` piu` colorato. Se un po' della poesia e` andata perduta, e il messaggio
non e` piu` profondo com'era, il talento tecnico sta forse appena cominciando
I Red House Painters sono oggi meno pittori e piu` musicisti.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da Tobia D’Onofrio)
Sun Kill Moon, il nuovo progetto di Mark Kozelek (in cui suonano Anthony Koutsos dei Red House Painters, Tim Mooney degli American Music Club e Geoff Stanfield), debutta con Ghost Of The Great Highway (Jetset, 2003), un lavoro che mette da parte i clichès dell’epoca in cui vive e ricorda parecchio i migliori Red House Painters. I 14 minuti criptici di Duk Koo Kim sono il tour de force che meglio interpreta il nuovo umore esistenzialista di Kozelek, mentre le superbe Carry Me Ohio, Last Tide, Floating, Gentle Moon e la ballata acustica alla R.E.M. Glen Tipton, sono tipici pezzi alla Kozelek. Persino le stranezze, come la sostenuta Lily And Parrots e la solenne e vibrante Salvador Sanchez, mostrano lo stesso tipo di pacata disperazione. Nel complesso Kozelek ritorna, artisticamente, alla gamma di sonorità di maggior successo, e lo fa con sufficiente consapevolezza e senza aggiungere zavorre, per evitare che la sua condotta sembri solamente nostalgica.
Tiny Cities (2005) dei Sun Kill Moon è una raccolta di cover dei Modest Mouse.
Little Drummer Boy (2007) documenta alcune performance dal vivo di Kozelek.
Kozelek resuscita il moniker Sun Kill Moon (ormai un progetto solista) per April (Caldo Verde, 2008), una diligente escursione nei vari sotto-generi del folk-rock, che raggiunge l’apice del pathos nei dieci minuti di lamenti di chitarra distorta alla Neil Young Tonight The Sky (su un’andatura alla Harvest ma con un ritornello che si eleva vertiginosamente) e in The Light (più lenta e rumorosa), mentre tocca il vertice di passionale introversione nell’apripista di dieci minuti Lost Verses. Il suo alter-ego acustico e pastorale emerge nella Donovan-esca Lucky Man. L’angelica, sussurrata Unlit Hallway, la desolata Blue Orchids, e la spoglia ed ossessiva atmosfera di Heron Blue mostrano la sua destrezza nell’utilizzare i mezzi più semplici per ottenere il massimo impatto emozionale. A confronto, Moorestown sembra una ballata orchestrale. Sembra eccessivo persino il sottile velo di archi che copre i nove minuti di Tonight In Bilbao. Fra i musicisti sono presenti il batterista Anthony Koutsos, il bassista Geoff Stanfield e il violinista Michi Aceret.
Sun Kil Moon's solo acoustic Admiral Fell Promises (Caldo Verde, 2010) opens with
Źlesund, a display of tender fingerpicking (that owes more to flamenco
than to country music). That sets the standard for much of the album, shifting
the attention from the voice to the guitar.
The second song, however, does exactly the opposite: Half Moon Bay
relies on an almost stoned vocal languor that recalls a saner
Hence the two modes alternate for the rest of the album.
Sam Wong Hotel is reminiscent of both renaissance and Christmas songs,
the tinkling guitar tapestry sounding at times like
Simon & Garfunkel's Scarborough Fair;
while the seven-minute Third And Seneca has the tone of a hypnotic
mantra repeated on a dull guitar pattern.
The slightly more propulsive The Leaning Tree (eight minutes), however,
displays the problem with this method: it comes through as just one monotonous
litany because too little happens in between and below and next to the words
The moving lament of Church Of The Pines is weakened by unimaginative
guitar strumming. The impressionistic strumming of Bay Of Skulls is,
on the other hand, weakened by bland singing.
Most of the songs are probably too long for what they have to say.
Kozelek is neither a great guitarist nor a great vocalist and, while he
certainly enjoys what he is doing, playing by himself for an entire album
feels like a bit of a stretch.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da Andrea Vascellari)
Admiral Fell Promises (Caldo Verde, 2010), lavoro solista targato Sun Kil Moon, si apre con Alesund, uno sfoggio di delicato fingerpicking (il quale deve piu' al flamenco che alla musica country). Questa definisce lo standard per la maggior parte dell'album, spostando l'attenzione dalla voce alla chitarra. La seconda canzone, invece, fa esattamente l'opposto: Half Moon Bay si basa su un languore vocale quasi moribondo, che ricorda un piu' sano
David Crosby. Di qui le due modalita' si alternano per il resto dell'album. Sam Wong hotel ricorda sia le canzoni rinascimentali che quelle natalizie, a volte il tintinnante tappeto chitarristico suona come Scarborough Fair di Simon & Garfunkel, mentre i sette minuti di Third & Seneca hanno il tono di un mantra ipnotico ripetuto su un monotono motivo di chitarra. La leggermente piu' propulsiva Leaning Tree (otto minuti), tuttavia, mostra il problema di questo metodo: si tratta solo di una litania monotona, perche' c'e' troppo poco in mezzo, sotto e accanto alle parole. Il movimentato lamento di Church of the pines e' indebolito da una chitarra strimpellata senza immaginazione. Lo strimpellio impressionistico di Bay Of Skulls e', d'altra parte, indebolito da un cantato blando. La maggior parte dei brani sono probabilmente troppo lunghi per quello che hanno da dire. Kozelek non e' ne' un grande chitarrista, ne' un grande cantante e, sebbene egli si diverta certamente nel farlo, ascoltarlo suonare da solo per un intero album risulta un po' eccessivo.
Sun Kil Moon's Among the Leaves (2012), performed again mostly
on a nylon string guitar, sounded like an unnecessary corollary, and a
lengthy and verbose one at that. The "electric" "King Fish" comes as a relief
when it breaks the melancholic monotony of the proceedings.
Far from fading into obscurity like many songwriters of this generation,
Kozelek suddenly became prolific.
Like Rats (2013) is a collection of covers.
The electronic Perils of the Sea (2013) was a collaboration with Album Leaf's multi-instrumentalist Jimmy LaValle (and one of the best of this minor phase);
and Mark Kozelek & Desertshore (2013) was a collaboration with
the band formed by Phil Carney, his former fellow in the Red House Painters,
and by keyboardist Chris Connolly, a band that released
Drifting Your Majesty (2010) and Drawing Of Threes (2011).
Sun Kil Moon's
double-disc Benji (Caldo Verde, 2014) consists of eleven new
songs, mostly unaccompanied, and of live versions of five of them.
This cycle of songs probably constitutes the bleakest autobiography ever sung by
a musician. They are all very personal, and realistically detailed.
They are delivered in a tone that is gentle and relaxed to the point of
sounding surreal in an era of hyper-fast and hyper-connected lives.
There is very little movement and little pathos in the seven minutes of
Carissa, a requiem of sorts to a cousin. That matter of factual approach
plaintive I Can't Live Without My Mother's Love, a duet with alt-country pioneer Will Oldham, is the exception, not
In fact, his tone gets even starker, Leonard Cohen-ian stark, in Truck Driver, probably the album's standout, and in the
ten-minute I Watched The Film The Song Remains The Same (alas, also the most tedious song on the album).
The sleepy rhythm picks up a bit in the chanted sexual pedigree of Dogs,
in the insistent blues of Pray For Newtown, in the
honky-tonking I Love My Dad,
in the very unusual pop-jazz ballad Ben's My Friend (with saxophone too),
and especially in the bizarre serial-killer madrigal
Richard Ramirez Died Today Of Natural Causes,
which, musically, feels like a grisly variant of
Bob Dylan's Desolation Row for
the age of mass shootings.
Mark Kozelek is increasingly an old-fashioned bard in the tradition of
(with neither the wit of the former nor the populism of the latter).
His monochromatic style, that couples the
plainest of voices with the plainest of fingerpicking techniques,
not only crafts a very personal world but is also perfect for that specific
personal world, which seems a bit anachronistic, even unreal.
Mark Kozelek shares a problem with many other US-based singer-songwriters:
that they feel so out of touch with their age (both in terms of musical style
and of lyrical content). These songs feel
terribly provincial, almost as if he lived insulated from the Arab Spring,
Islamic terrorism, China's economic boom and Silicon Valley.
These are songs that don't resonate with anybody on the planet, except
the few who know Kozelek particularly well.
This is the album of an aging man with little or no interest and little or no
contact with the world, who basically fantasizes
about another world that doesn't exist anymore, but that paradoxically
constitutes his lived life.
One wonders whether Kozelek knows what a smartphone is, where Beijing is
or who Putin is. They may surface in his songs when a metal-recycling
neighbor picks up an iPhone from a garbage can
or when a girlfriend uses a newspaper to wrap up a birthday gift.
The sprawling Benji turned out to be the beginning of
Kozelek's descent into madness with a string of
increasingly unlistenable albums.
In the next few years
SunKilMoon released three albums and Kozelek released a solo album (not counting a cover album and a Christmas album) and at least five collaborations.
The first sign of madness was the spoken-word poetry album Dreams of Childhood (2015): 12 Spanish-language poems recited by him in their English translation and then by Nicolas Pauls in the original version.
Most of these releases were monoliths full of lengthy self-indulgent rambling monologues with minimal arrangements, not quite streams of consciousness but
first-person, autobiographical narratives that sounded
increasingly out of control, a process that, in retrospective, one could
see starting with Among the Leaves.
If you don't care for the lyrics, these songs feel like endless torture.
If you care for the lyrics, then probably it doesn't matter much how he
sings them and how the players play.
The songs of Universal Themes (Caldo Verde, 2015) are, first and
foremost, very long. Kozelek obviously doesn't like to tell a story in three
minutes: he takes his time, feels that it's important to mention all the
details like in a hyper-realist painting, and it's ok (maybe important)
to take random philosophical detours.
The Possum (8:59) shifts gear repeatedly, at one point becoming a
rap song, and the narrative is erratic at best, forgetting the possum until
almost the end.
The most melodic refrain surfaces halfway into This Is My First Day And I'm Indian And I Work At A Gas Station (10:10), where he sounds like an intoxicated Kenny Rogers, but is soon swept away by a completely different singalong that in turns decays into a dreamy litany accompanied with an angelic xylophone, but then he just stops pretending to play and the coda is simply spoke word.
The raw and desperate Neil Young-ian garage rave-up of With A Sort Of Grace I Walked To The Bathroom To Cry (9:47) is interrupted by sections of anemic languor.
The simplest songs are also the most stable:
Birds Of Flims (9:05), barely accompanied with his guitar and (multi-tracked) backup vocals and (well into the song) by strings;
and Garden Of Lavender, whose main attraction is the interplay of his
multi-tracked vocals in the first part.
Two collaborations with Justin Broadrick yielded
Jesu / Sun Kil Moon (Caldo Verde, 2016), ostensibly a collection of
love songs, and
30 Seconds To The Decline Of Planet Earth (Caldo Verde, 2017).
Somehow Broadrick's tortured riffs and plodding drumbeats take a toll
on the singer. On the former album, one has to go through the
tedious Good Morning My Love (7:04) and
Carondelet (8:35) before something that can be called a "song" appears
(A Song Of Shadows, lulled in waves of shoegazing guitar and a
dreamy pattern of organ).
His verbose persistence sometimes generates a natural morphing of the song,
possibly unplanned and unwanted, like when the bland
Last Night I Rocked The Room Like Elvis And Had Them Laughing Like Richard Pryor (8:03) acquires a Bob Dylan-ian emphasis.
It is, incidentally, one of the two songs where he recites
a letter sent to him by a fan
(the other one is America's Most Wanted Mark Kozelek And John Dillinger,
a great title without a song).
Too much, however, is repetitive and monotonous. For example,
it is hard to tell what happens amid the strings, looped piano notes and programmed beats of Exodus (9:44) and Beautiful You (14:01) doesn't
even pretend to be music: it is mostly spoken word.
The second collaboration revealed in Broadrick a cunning and sophisticated
producer and arranger. The stylistic palette is quite large, from
the minimal techno of Wheat Bread (17:01)
the bubbling synthpop carillon of The Greatest Conversation Ever In The History Of The Universe (9:44),
the laid-back J.J. Cale-style blues-rock of
the shrill and tense folktronica of Hello Chicago (8:08), with a
Leonard Cohen-esque coda,
Overall, a much more musical experience than the first collaboration.
Kozelek then released a solo album of covers, Sings Favorites (2016),
followed by a collaboration with
with Parquet Courts' bassist Sean Yeaton,
Yellow Kitchen (2017),
here mostly on keyboards, devoted to his theatrical recitations, such as the
12-minute Daffodils (in which even impersonates a dog),
Mark Kozelek With Ben Boye and Jim White (2017), a collaboration with
keyboardist Ben Boye and the Dirty Three's drummer Jim White.
Unforunately the collaborators add very little to his endless monologues,
and the only decent results are the
nocturnal lounge atmosphere of the jazzy piano-based Topo Gigio (14:42)
and the moribund rhythm of The Robin Williams Tunnel (16:22).
It was his second double album of the year and fourth album overall.
Somehow the collaborations with Jesu had the effect of expanding the musical
vocabulary of Sun Kil Moon.
Common As Light And Love Are Red Valleys Of Blood (Caldo Verde, 2017)
contains more than two hours of improvised material, arranged in a variety
of styles. Unfortunately it is mostly insignificant music to wildly
self-indulgent lyrics. The most musical moment is perhaps
Seventies TV Show Theme Song (7:30), thanks to a horn section, a guitar solo and a funky rhythm.
But the arrangement is always fragile and subdued, unfocused,
like in God Bless Ohio (10:37)
and Stranger Than Paradise (12:24),
not matching the ambition of the storytelling.
and sometimes the style is more meandering than the lyrics, as in
Lone Star (9:14).
The lyrics are a matter for psychologists: a diary of ordinary incidents, of global concerns, of funny hobbies, of political opinions, of jokes, of self-reflection, and so on... the chronicle of a banal pointless existence,
but with no introspection, without trying to make sense of it.
His musical ego (which may or may not represent his real self) seems to be drifting through life with the only purpose of narrating what happens with surgical, documentarian precision...
The meaning of life is simply documenting it, turning real life into stories,
as if to glorify the fact that everything, in the end, is superfluous,
that mundanity is our destiny.
This Is My Dinner (Caldo Verde, 2018),
recorded while touring Europe in November 2017,
is surprisingly musical, given that the lengthy meditations employ fairly
The slow-motion lounge jazz of This Is Not Possible (9:12)
and This Is My Dinner (12:36) manage to lull the listener into a
kind of dull trance.
A fluttering piano and tired drumming propel Candles (13:40).
His madcap performance in Linda Blair (11:50) is punctured by a
petulant guitar and ends with three minutes of Led Zeppelin-ian blues-rock.
The first half of standout Copenhagen (10:05) is drenched in a
tense noir atmosphere before it morphs into a waltzing elegy that then
decays into another slow-jazz dirge.
Soap For Joyful Hands (13:11) is perhaps too slow and tepid,
despite the more poignant piano-driven last minutes.
Mark Kozelek's solo album Mark Kozelek (2018) is truly
mostly solo guitar and voice.
The bland The Mark Kozelek Museum (10:26) is woken up by a melodic refrain and a lengthy guitar solo.
He tries slow-motion jazz without a band in the bass-led Weed Whacker (8:03).
The Banjo Song (12:42) uses the guitar strumming in a way that evokes
the ticking of a wall clock.
The one lively song is My Love for You Is Undying (13:08)
whose rhythm and fingerpicking recall Celtic dances.
But the "songs" are way too long for what they have to offer.
The lack of a backing band dooms them.
Sun Kil Moon's
I Also Want To Die In New Orleans (Caldo Verde, 2019),
recorded with Dirty Three's drummer Jim White and saxophonist Donny McCaslin,
has no singer: Kozelek's role is more
rhythmic spoken-word than singing. That further lowers the musical quality
of "songs" such as Coyote (12:31): they are speeches, not music.
If the arrangement borders on free jazz, one could call his singing "free rambling".
Day In America (15:06) is a suite made of many movements. It opens with
a slow martial saxophone-tinged dance, but soon
(four minutes into the song) hummed backing vocals, a guitar that sounds like
a hammered dulcimer, skipping drums and repetitive saxophone intone a minimalist concerto. And then we hear influences ranging from medieval dances to
jazz and soul.
I'm Not Laughing At You (11:38) is equally unstable but in a less
The murky blues Cows (9:58) combines
suspense-filled guitar pattern, looped backing vocals, and droning saxophone for what sounds like an apocalyptic doomsday chant.
The lively rhythm of standout Couch Potato (11:44) briefly evokes
Van Morrison before settling in a
"Bob Dylan with saxophone" mode,
and before disappearing in the usual downcast whispered maze of words and notes.
The real attraction is the backing band for most of the album.
However, his longest song yet, Bay Of Kotor (23:14) opens with
intricate guitar playing, sounding like a simplified
Leo Kottke, and this time it's the voice that
steals the show, not because it sings, but because it keeps changing tone
and style of diction. Alas, there are a good ten minutes of redundant stuff (not
sure if it can be called "music") and even a couple of minutes of spoken word
with no instrumental accompaniment.
Joey Always Smiled (2019) with That Dog's violinist Petra Haden
yielded a few more of these unrestrained monologues:
Parakeet Prison (16:51), that Haden seasons with lugubrious piano and eerie vocals;
and standout 1983 MTV Era Music Is the Soundtrack to Outcasts Being Bullied by Jocks (19:29), wrapped in an unusually dense arrangement (vibraphone, drum-machine, piano, multi-tracked vocals).
But most of it, including Spanish Hotels Are Echoey (12:11),
is spoken-word indulgence with little or no music.
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