Sun Kil Moon – Common As Light And Love Are Red Valleys of Blood – Album Review by Killian Laher
Mark Kozelek fans can’t complain about not having any new music to digest. Just about a year since the Jesu/Sun Kil Moon album came out, he is now releasing 2 hours and 10 minutes worth of music on the latest Sun Kil Moon double album. But this is without doubt the least musical album he’s ever been involved with. Most of it is practically spoken word, and most of it is designed to drive you scatty. He seems to be on a quest to cram as many words as possible into these tossed-off sounding songs. And not particularly profound words either. Most songs are fairly similar, long (some tracks run to TEN minutes) groove-based music with Mark Kozelek adding conversational lyrics to them. It’s a bit like the fan letter style excerpts in some of his more recent material (America’s Most Wanted Mark Kozelek and John Dillinger from Jesu/Sun Kil Moon). The epitome of this style are songs like Chili Lemon Peanuts and Philadelphia Cop, the latter featuring a particularly cringy section about being a music journalist (“Oh God you’re a music journalist? Do you get to go to SXSW? Yep pretty much every year, the magazine I write for sends me out… hold on a second Sufjan Stevens is texting me”). Yes, these are the actual lyrics, spoken/read by Kozelek in two different voices, alternating between gushing fan and cynical hack.
At least Window Sash Weights has somewhat unsettling, foreboding music behind it. Sarah Lawrence College Song sees him reading another note from a fan, this time one describing listening to some Kozelek albums (name checking Cruiser, Benji and Red House Painters 1). Songs like The Highway Song (featuring a repeated refrain “why you fucking round with that shit for”), Butch Lullaby and Stranger Than Paradise are practically hip hop for most of their duration before lapsing into guitar noodling every so often. There are some more musical moments: God Bless Ohio and I Love Portugal feature melodic, cascading guitar lines (the latter echoing Sun Kil Moon classic Carry Me Ohio), while Early June Blues features some reasonably nice keyboards. Steve Shelley opens Bergen to Trondheim with some strong drumming but the track is sunk by Kozelek’s awful, hip hop style lyrics (“that fuck who killed 50 people in Florida, that’s some fucked up shit, I don’t care what ethnicity or religion that crazy fuck is”), and it goes on and on like this for eight tedious minutes. Towards the end of the album, as he might say himself, this shit gets even stranger. Bastille Day chucks in a Doors-y organ for the hell of it, Vague Rock Song has a calypso chorus (“c’mon now everybody dance”, while Seventies TV Show Theme includes 70s style brass while referencing Spotify, Amazon, Farrah Fawcett and how long Kozelek spent on the lyrics (!).
Generally the weaker albums in his enormous back catalogue have one or two moments which redeem them, but it’s hard to find anything here. Unless you like Kozelek’s rambling, profane, diary-style stories. There was a time, many years ago that Mark Kozelek was sparing with his releases, keeping fans waiting four years between Songs for a Blue Guitar and his first solo album Rock ‘N’ Roll Singer (there were record company issues at work). But this current abundance of new Kozelek albums is not necessarily a good thing. No doubt the lyrics and music are very personal to Kozelek, documenting January – August 2016, while also dipping in and out of world events like Bowie’s death and the candidacy of Trump. But really, never mind the Red House Painters or early Sun Kil Moon, even ranked against 2015’s Universal Themes much of this stuff is pretty terrible. There won’t be many stranger albums released this year. And it’s less than three months till his next collaboration with Jesu comes out. Perhaps this is the ‘Joaquin Phoenix in the ‘mockumentary’ I’m Still Here’ phase of Kozelek’s musical career??
Album stream: http://www.sunkilmoon.com/commonaslight/
God Bless Ohio
Chili Lemon Peanuts
The Highway Song
Window Sash Weights
Sarah Lawrence College Song
Stranger Than Paradise
Early June Blues
Bergen To Trondheim
I Love Portugal
Vague Rock Song
Seventies TV Show Theme Song
I Love You Forever And Beyond Eternity