Subhead: Veteran songwriter Mark Kozelek’s experimental new album exceeds expectation.
For 25 years, Mark Kozelek has been raising, often capping the bar in whatever facet of music he is working in at the time. If you haven’t listened to his music, you are doing yourself a great disservice.
Kozelek’s career began with the dreamy slowcore San Francisco band Red House Painters in the late ’80s. They released six superb records, most notably “Down Colorful Hill” and “Rollercoaster,” both of which were criminally unavailable for a number of years following the band’s popularity in the ’90s.
Red House Painters dissolved in the early 2000s and from its ashes came Sun Kil Moon, Kozelek’s new band, with pretty much the same lineup. From 2003 Kozelek would begin an aggressive and rewarding studio and touring effort, touring constantly all over the world and becoming radically prolific for a complex instrumentalist and songwriter—he has released seven studio albums under the Sun Kil Moon moniker, three solo albums, as well as a collaborative album with metal band Jesu, an album with Jimmy LaValle of The Album Leaf, one with the indie band Desertshore, and an album of poetry with Argentinian actor Nicolás Pauls.
This Friday will see the release of the eighth Sun Kil Moon album, entitled “Common As Light And Love Are Red Valleys Of Blood,” his longest album ever at 130 minutes.
Kozelek, at his start, wrote dreamy, often dreary and wistful love songs on the Red House Painters records. As his career lengthened, he began to experiment writing more prosaically. The clear turning point for him came with two records, “Perils From the Sea” and the seminal 2014 album “Benji” where his poetic prose lyrics and masterful instrumentation was matched with an emotionality he had not quite reached before. As Ian Cohen wrote—rather pointedly–“Benji” is an album where everybody dies. It’s an album about death.
The new album, “Common as Light and Love” continues in the “Benji” tradition—Kozelek is a master of tone and nostalgia; he can even sentimentalize something as ubiquitous as thinking about eating Domino’s Pizza and weld it into something powerful. This is all entirely evident from the opening moments of the first track “God Bless Ohio”
Kozelek doesn’t waste time for a second here. In the song “Lone Star” he chastises North Carolinians, here dubbed rednecks/hillbillies, for their absurd anti-transgender bathroom restrictions. He blames the rise of Trumpian politics on the ignorance of the internet age and correctly predicts a Trump win, (the record was recorded and mixed before last November).
Thematically the record also touches on the alleged Richard Ramirez victim Elisa Lam, a former roadie-friend of Mark’s named Butch, and the renewal of Mark’s faith in millennials, after a successful concert at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville New York, which he sings about rather plainly in the song “Sarah Lawrence College Song”.
All of the instruments on the album were played by Kozelek, aside from the drum tracks, which were recorded by Steve Shelley formerly of the band Sonic Youth.
“Common As Light And Love Are Red Valleys of Blood” can be streamed at sunkilmoon.com right now, but will be officially released on Feb. 24, 2017. Kozelek’s next album, another collaboration with Jesu, “30 Seconds To The Decline Of Planet Earth” will be released on June 1.