ponedjeljak, 24. veljače 2014.

Sun Kil Moon - Benji (2014); Mark Kozelek & Desertshore – Mark Kozelek & Desertshore (2013); Mark Kozelek; Red House Painters

Sun Kil Moon - Benji

Može li "jedva podnošljiv" album biti istovremeno i najbolji?


At what point does sincerity become experimental?
I’m always a bit suspicious whenever someone tells me that an album has “changed” their life. More often than not, the exact opposite is true. No matter how good, the album in question hasn’t changed a thing at all, but merely affirmed some deeply ingrained, more pleasing vision of the listener’s identity… No, if music is going to change your life, it’s more likely to happen through an album that is disagreeable or even slightly disappointing, the one you really don’t want to play again.– Ed Comentale, in his 2011 review of Bon Iver, Bon Iver
I was still in high school back when I first read that review. I guess that would have been almost three years ago at this point, two years before I started writing for TMT myself. I was just starting to get into music at the time, but I still remember that specific passage leaving an impression on me. That was back when music still had the capacity to surprise me unequivocally, back when I was too inexperienced to know the tropes and the scenes, and every gesture felt new and surprising and genuine. It felt like every album had the capacity to change my life.
And yet, with each passing year — as I come to find the independence of “independent music” more and more suspect, and as even a lot of “experimental music” start to sound more like fashion than experiment — Ed’s point seems to ring truer and truer. At what point do music and music criticism stop pushing the uncomfortable boundaries of what is possible and instead become a vehicle of self-validation? At what point does an album become just another mirror turned toward a fawning Narcissus? Where is the music that still has the capacity to change us?
It’s fitting that, after all this time, that passage should come back to mind while listening to Benji, perhaps the single most bewildering, uncomfortable, and affecting album I’ve listened to in recent memory. To put it in Tiny Mix Tapes terms: Benji, Mark Kozelek’s sixth album as Sun Kil Moon, is as abrasive as Pharmakon, as hauntingly emotive as Dean Blunt, and as disorienting as Oneohtrix Point Never. And if those three comparisons come across as utterly ridiculous, don’t worry. They should.
It’s no great secret that Tiny Mix Tapes has made a point of advocating music at the fringes. Hence, rather than a traditional Editor’s Choice or Best New Music section, our EUREKA! award is given to albums not on the basis of some intrinsic notion of quality, but rather based on their capacity to challenge the limits of music and representation. These albums, like most great works of contemporary art, tend to approach their subject matter at oblique angles. They say things without talking about them, paint them without showing them. They delight in the process of perpetual abstraction. The viewer is given only a fleeting glimpse of the reality behind the work, and it is up to us to retrace the lines for ourselves. We are left to tether the work to our own reality, rather than to an external reality forced upon our imaginations.
But lately I’ve begun to wonder: what happens when abstraction stops being the exception and instead becomes the default? What happens when the art we consume becomes distanced further and further from the real? Perhaps at a certain point, this distance too becomes a sort of default — an unfordable chasm separating us from reality. Ultimately, just as irony has come to define the distance between what we say and what we mean, perhaps abstraction has set the distance between what we sense and what is really there.
Benji collapses both these distances. It is one of the least abstract, least ironic, most straightforward albums I have ever heard. The album’s 11 vignettes — at a certain point I hesitate to even call them “songs” — come across as short stories ripped from the pages of Kozelek’s diary. They are rendered in the simplest of terms, often so blatantly and artlessly that you can’t help but cringe. There isn’t a shred of subtext on the whole album; almost every track can be summed up in its title. “I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love” and “I Love My Dad” are about exactly what you’d expect. “Carissa,” “Jim Wise,” and “Micheline” are character sketches of their titular figures, each presumably a real character from Kozelek’s life. “Pray For Newtown” is, astonishingly enough, a straight-faced elegy for the victims of mass shootings. “Ben’s My Friend” is, perhaps most bizarrely, about Kozelek’s friendship with Ben Gibbard. Yes, that Ben Gibbard. And as for the album title…

The whole production would be grotesquely comical if it didn’t feel so unflinchingly, unapologetically sincere. And here’s the thing. Benji doesn’t resonate in spite of its awkwardness, but wholly because of it. Where so many artists would coat their lyrics in a thick buffer of nonchalance and ennui, Kozelek makes absolutely no pretension of playing it cool. “I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love,” Kozelek’s ode to his 75-year-old mother, is a clumsily heartfelt love song. “Dogs” is one of the most uncomfortably honest account of male sexual frustration and insecurity since a lonely Rivers Cuomo wrote Pinkerton and confessed to masturbating to a Japanese teenager’s fan letter. (That “Dogs” is immediately followed by “Pray For Newtown” might be one of the most perplexing and psychoanalytically revealing metonymies ever committed to CD, but that’s another issue altogether.) Even the banality of a song like “Carissa” — a seven-minute meditation on the meaning of death — gives way to an immaculately naive clarity: “Carissa was 35/ You don’t just raise two kids and take out your trash and die.”
There will no doubt be more than a few listeners who go through Benji and decide that it is a terrible album. Indeed, every second of this album invites mockery. And if you’re so inclined, you’ll find a million reasons to hate it. At the risk of casting the first stone, there are times when I’m embarrassed how this album makes me feel. And at those moments, I want to stop listening. I want to laugh it off. But when a full-grown man tells how much he loves his mother and asks you to pray for the kids who died in Newtown, I think you have to ask yourself: are you laughing it off because you’re somehow above that sort of wide-eyed naiveté? Or are you laughing it off to distract yourself from the terrifying realization that you no longer feel anything?
So, when you listen Benji, I challenge you to consider our working definition of the EUREKA! section:
Some musical ruptures are so penetrating, so incisive we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and test the boundaries of what exactly discerns ‘music’ from ‘noise,’ others complement or continue anachronistic traditions that have provided new forms and ways of listening. We consider the section a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.
What does it say that, in 2014, one of the most provocative, boundary-pushing, and perhaps life-changing albums of the year might very well be an acoustic folk album that says exactly what it means? - Gabriel Samach

Mark Kozelek talks about the new Sun Kil Moon album Benji with Jaan Uhelszki.
Benji is the sixth full length Sun Kil Moon release. I did this interview over Thanksgiving weekend, 2013, because Mark Kozelek mentioned that his spirit leaves an album soon after he finishes a record. This is my attempt to capture that fleeing spirit by grilling him about love, gratitude, death and the what his friends say about him.
— Jaan Uhelszki

Benji is your seventh release since 2012, including live recording and collaborations. Is there some urgency to get all this material out? Is this different from when you first began your career? What’s driving this productivity?
It seems like a lot of work, but it’s been a relatively easy few years. Two of the records were collaborations. With Perils From The Sea, I was only responsible for the vocals. And with Mark Kozelek and Desertshore, my main responsibility was singing, as well. Like Rats was easy because I didn’t write any of the songs. I like to stay busy, to react to my impulses as they happen. It’s not the ’90s anymore, so I don’t have to wait around for funding by labels. I pay for my own records; I work at my own pace. Right now, I’m working on a Christmas album.

In the lyrics on Benji, I hear references and concerns with health and mortality. Is that something that’s been worrying you?

It’s not a daily worry, but death has been around a lot in recent years. My second cousin passing at 35 years old this summer brought a lot of sadness to my family. There was also the death of my ex-girlfriend’s mother, who passed from cancer at 60. I was there when that happened, and spent the day with another friend’s mom, the day before she passed, at 59. And, of course, Tim Mooney and Jason Molina died recently.

Do your albums build on each other? Should they? Is there a connection? Is there some thread the ties things together from the beginning of your career to Benji?

Something about Benji brought me full circle back to my childhood. I suppose it’s being middle-aged and reflecting. I hear about kids that I remember from my old neighborhood. One had a heart attack and died in his 40s. And the day before I played The Jimmy Fallon Show in 2012, a kid from my old neighborhood was mauled by K-9s, trying to outrun the cops in a cornfield. He was sent to jail for the third time. I wonder how that all happens, how we end up on such different paths. Things don’t just blow by me.
You’ve said that your spirit leaves an album soon after you’re done with it. Tell me about that. And you’ve been recording so much, so fast, how do you know when it’s time to make another album?
You just sort of feel it, the way you feel it when a relationship is over. I just get this stagnant feeling when I’m hanging around a record too long. Other ideas come to me and I need to get to them. It’s not that I’m in hurry, it’s just time to move on.

How do songs come in? Do they usually show up almost complete, or do you ever struggle and write them word-by-word?
They come in different ways. Sometimes I get these lyric attacks in the middle of the night. A verse comes, and then another, and then I either fall asleep or I get up and write them down. I get a lot of lyrics on airplanes. My graphics guy thinks I have too many shots of airplanes in my artwork, but that’s really where I get a lot of ideas, sitting around at airports. I take a Moleskin journal and I write.

How much does place weigh on what you write and how you sound? You so often reference specific names and specific places. Vocally, and with your guitar, you seem to lock into a sound, and you repeat it over and over, like the “blue crab cakes” in “Ben’s My Friend.” It seems like something takes hold of you and takes over. What happens to you when that occurs?
Sometimes the repetitiveness comes from a lack of anything else to tie things together. Or I repeat phrases to capture the mundane, the redundancy, or the humor of a situation. Like how I wrote ‘UK Blues’ and then ‘UK Blues 2’. Musically, the guitar on ‘Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes’ is perfect because it’s so menacing and relentless. You can’t sing a song about Richard Ramirez that has pretty parts. The repetition, it just fell together. Place is important. What I’m surrounded by is a good place to start in any song.
How do you know when you’ve written a good song? You write so much, how much of it doesn’t show up on records? What makes the cut?
Ninety percent of my ideas never come to fruition because I don’t complete them. I get an idea in transit, but then I have a show and I don’t care about the idea anymore. I’ve moved on. I know a song is good when it’s complete and when it’s recorded. If I’ve gotten that far with it, it will see the light of day.

Who is Benji? Why and how did he become the center of this record?

It’s named after the film Benji, a movie I saw in 1974 in a Los Angeles movie theatre when I was visiting my grandmother. It’s just this nice childhood memory I have. The record is filled with so much darkness, I wanted to bring some light, some contrast.

Can you talk about the association of the title Benji, a children’s film, your friend Ben, who is an electrician in “Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes” and Ben Gibbard, from the Postal Service, who you immortalized in “Ben’s My Friend”?

The friend who is an electrician -- his name is not actually Ben. That’s just what I named him in the song. ‘Ben’s My Friend’ was the last song written for the album, inspired by a meltdown I had after seeing my friend Ben Gibbard’s band, The Postal Service. And Benji, the movie, is referenced in ‘Micheline’.

How did Benji start? Was there an event that triggered it? Did you have an organizing principle in mind when you began?
The very first song written and recorded for the album was ‘Truck Driver’. ‘I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love’ followed. Like all records, the pieces just fell together over time.

Much of this record is about your family and growing up in Ohio. Did you expect to be led back there to find the answers to who you are? The clues to some of your behaviors? Do you feel you understand more now that you made the album?

In the middle of writing this Ohio-themed record, my cousin died. So I went back to Ohio and found myself in the same places I was singing about. But, yeah, many things tie back to my youth. Even though I’ve been away so long, I’m still very “Ohio.” I see the way my friends raise their kids out here and it’s confusing. I have some friends -- it took them a year to find the right dog. I’m not lying to you -- they interviewed dogs for a year before finding the right one. In Ohio, you just go get a dog. Where I grew up, we went to public schools, and we didn’t have housekeepers, and the word “organic” wasn’t in our vocabulary. I read the book House Of Secrets by Lowell Cauffiel. Those people in the book were my neighbors. I could ramble on, but, yes, my behaviors are definitely tied into my upbringing. There is simplicity to my life, a basicness with how I view things. I don’t care if anything is “green,” and I’m a technophobe, just like my father. I don’t have Facebook or any of that.

Two songs loom large on this record: “Carissa” and “Truck Driver.” Tell me about those two and how they are connected.

I wrote the song ‘Truck Driver’ in March of this year. It’s about my uncle who was in critical condition from a fire accident and eventually died, about five or six years ago.. I was playing the song at concerts in May. A month later, in June, my mom called me and told me that my second cousin Carissa just died the exact same way -- from an aerosol can explosion. Carissa died the same way as my uncle, who was her grandfather. People out here didn’t know what I was talking about when I told them what happened. But anyone who grew up in the Midwest knows what I’m talking about. If you live in the country, you burn trash, and occasionally accidents happens. In my uncle’s case, it was a gas can, in Carissa’s, it was aerosol. She was a really sweet girl who worked as an RN in Wadsworth, Ohio; had a husband and two kids.

Why was it important for you to find meaning in the tragedy of your cousin? Your uncle? Jim Wise, your father’s friend who killed his wife out of love, and failed to kill himself? Is there always meaning in death?
My dad’s friend just got sentenced. I visited him this summer, the song is exactly as it all went down. He was sitting there on house arrest, and he told me he would get sent to prison. Sure enough, they sentenced him. How am I not going to write about this? This was a guy my dad met at Panera Bread three times a week. How am I not going to write a song for Carissa? I don’t know what the meaning is but I’m compelled to write about these people, to pay tribute to them.

Family seems to be occupying a lot of your attention. A longing for things to be the way they were when you were a child?

I go back there a lot, mentally. I don’t know why. In 7th grade, I had a friend named Chris. I sing about him in ‘I Watched the Film The Song Remains The Same’. I have this funny memory of him. We went fishing, and we must have smoked some dusted weed or something, but we came back to this guy’s house, and this guy started swinging a baseball bat at us. Chris and I were laughing, hysterically. Anyhow Chris dropped his fishing tackle off at my house, and the next day, he got bumped off his moped and died. I didn’t touch his tackle box or fishing pole for about a year after he died. I have these happy, sunny memories, and Chris and me laughing is one of them.

Can you talk a little bit about a sense of destiny about what you would become in “Truck Driver,” where you sing about being five and falling into a trance when people are gathered playing guitars, “and [you] knew one day I’d do the same thing,” then fast-forward almost 40 years, where you are the guitar player after your uncle’s funeral, and “they fell into a trance” when you picked up a guitar.
Things didn’t happen exactly like that. What actually happened was, after my uncle’s funeral, my mother and I were in a car accident, and an ambulance was called. The car was totaled, but we were okay. That’s the beauty of songwriting. I was able to replace that memory with a better one; the memory of me playing guitar for my cousins on a separate occasion. But the way I chose to wrap the song up captures the feeling of me returning to Ohio as a professional musician. What are the odds of a kid watching someone playing an acoustic guitar on a lawn in Navarre, Ohio, and having the thought, "this is what I want to do," and then it actually becoming their way of life?

There’s also a really profound passage in “Dogs,” where you talk about the things that you imprint on. “Our early life shapes the types who we’re drawn to. It’s a complicated place, this planet we’re on.” Can you talk about this, and when that occurred to you?
Things that live inside my father, live inside of me. He traveled a lot when I was growing up, now I travel a lot.
Certain things that annoyed my father, those things now annoy me. Like noise. My dad — when he came home from those work trips -- he hated noise. The sound of anything broke his concentration.
Well, I’m that guy now, requesting quiet rooms in hotels. And when I’m at work — meaning, playing my guitar on stage — I don’t want to hear any noise. It messes with my concentration. I ask venues to turn light racks off, air conditioners, whatever is causing buzzing sounds near the stage. There are other things that live inside my father, that live inside me, in regards to how we are in our relationships. He’s divorced. He tries his best, I try my best.

Death seems to be very present on this record. Was that intentional? Do things seem to have more meaning for you when death enters the equation? While you don’t really romanticize it, it does figure in most of the songs on Benji.

I’m aware that there is a lot of death on this one, which is probably why I’m now working on a Christmas album now, to get a break from it all. But I have some new lyrics referencing Lou Reed’s death. I met him, in Vancouver, and my memory of that is now more profound. I don’t intentionally write about death, it’s just where I’m at.

Are you afraid of dying at this point in your life, or just afraid of losing those who you love?

I’m afraid of losing my mother and father. I dread that. I’m not afraid of dying, myself. I remember being really scared, way back, whenever there was airplane turbulence. Now I just feel like, if this plane crashes, that means I don’t have to get on another airplane ever again. I mean, I don’t want to do anything risky. I have more records to make and more Thankgivings to spend with my girlfriend. But I feel like, if it’s my time, I can’t complain. I’ve made tons of albums, traveled the world, and I look at the Golden Gate Bridge almost every waking day. But I do like being here for people, I’ve made some great friends along the way, and have a wonderful girlfriend. If I die next to her, then don’t feel bad for me.

This album seems like an elaborate thank you note, to your parents, to the girls who initiated you into sex, to the man who signed you. Were you feeling particularly grateful when you wrote this album?

For sure. My dad is 80. You know those people who hold grudges against their parents their whole lives? I’m not one of them. When I weigh it all out, my dad did a lot of good for me. We had a few hard times. But I had it coming. My dad was gone a lot, and he’d come home to a kid who was expelled from school, or whatever. I’m 46 years old and I understand him now. My mother, I put her through hell for a few years. She had her hands full with three kids. So yeah, this album is a thank you to my mom and dad, and, yes, to Ivo Watts-Russell. He signed Red House Painters when we couldn’t draw 20 people. This record is also a tribute to some friends who didn’t make it.

There are events that occurred years ago, for instance in “I Love My Dad,” or “Micheline.” How long does it take for something that happened to filter through your subconscious to transmute into a song?

Things happen when they happen. It wasn’t until four years after an ex-girlfiend died that I was able to really sing about her death. Things unfold when the time is right. Like in “1936,” the song about me stealing a family heirloom, I didn’t know I’d ever write about that. Jimmy LaValle sent me a piece of music, and the words spilled out of me.

In “ I Watched The Film The Song Remains The Same,” you talk about seeing Led Zeppelin’s movie of their 1975 tour in a Canton, Ohio, mall, and you say that the same things that spoke to you then, speak to you now — your own personal song remains the same. What are those things?

Like I say in the song, when I watch the film now as an adult, the same parts resonate that did back then. So I guess in some ways I’m the same person I was then. I loved Led Zeppelin back then, and still do. My favorite movies are still The Shining and Papillon. I fished back then, I still do.

You confess that you were a melancholy kid, and you’ve “discovered I cannot shake melancholy for 46 years now.” Does it surprise you that so much of what you would become was already fixed when you were a child?

Not really. My parents are both Depression-era kids. They both grew up with a lot of hardship. I don’t want to be specific, but I’ve always sensed melancholy in my parents. I mean, my dad, he’s really funny, and my mom, she’s really comforting to be around, but they both carry a certain weight that I believe stems from their childhood. There’s a spirit there that was passed onto me. It’s not a bad thing, melancholy. I can get up in the morning and check my emails and all of that. It’s just, I’m not perky. I never was.
Your songs seem tremendously autobiographical. Do you think your best work requires that element of autobiography? Why is that important for you to reveal so much?
I don’t know if it’s the autobiographical part or what, but when I write lyrics, something real comes out of me. I don’t know any other way to do it.

On “Dogs”, you move through all your early sexual experiences with great detail and with candor. Do you ever worry that people you write about will feel exposed? Do you ever have second thoughts from revealing something so personal? About yourself or others? Has anyone in your life taken you to task for it?

On “Dogs,” I didn’t use anyone’s real names. The last thing I would want to do is embarrass anyone. But for one reason or another, these experiences came out of me. The beauty of poetry is being able to express, and to alter, where it feels appropriate. But I never want to hurt anyone. I write about real things, but I’m respectful, I protect. I don’t recall anyone taking me to task, but I do recall a few girls asking if “The Moderately Talented Young Woman” was about them.
Given that, how would your friends describe you?

The only common denominator is that they might say I’m generous. I don’t know what it is. If I go out to eat with anyone, I’m buying dinner. Other than that, I don’t know what they’d say. Some might say I’m a good storyteller, or that I’m funny, or that I’m awkward. I have different chemistry with different friends. Another denominator, people spill their guts to me, I don’t know what it is. People trust me. When I’m your friend, I have your back.
You have said that isolation sparks creativity. Do you sacrifice some of that in the collaborations you’ve done recently? How does that change the way you write? What have you learned about yourself in working with someone else?

I don’t think I sacrifice anything. As an example, Chris and Phil of Desertshore are longtime friends. We put the mic up, and I just react to whatever is happening. That’s my job. They hired me to write and sing. I gain a lot from collaborations, because I’m making way more music than I would be if I was working alone.
Can you talk a little about working with Steve Shelley? Where do you two connect?

We connected at a festival in Peterborough, New Hampshire, this year. RHP played at least one festival with Sonic Youth years ago, but Steve and I never met or played together until this year. There is something mellow about Steve that I connect with, and I love the way he plays drums.
What do you have against Nels Cline? This is the second time you’ve brought him up in one of your albums. Has he tried to retaliate? Do you secretly like him?

Honestly, I don’t know anything about him. I saw Wilco live only once, in New Orleans, and on TV once. I decided to name off a bunch of guitarists I liked, in the chorus of “Bramble,” but then thought it would be more dynamic if I named a few I hated. The thing is, I don’t hate anybody. His name just rhymed with whatever came before it, and people laughed. So on Benji, I did it again. I do things twice, sometimes, like how I did “UK Blues” and “UK Blues 2.”
“Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes” seems to be tied up with your own sense of safety and well-being, as a child and an adult. Do you feel that the same things scare you now as they did then?

Different things scare me now. Like I said, the thought of losing my parents, or, like, my heart hurts sometimes. Not emotionally, but physically, that side of my chest. I worry about losing people. And I still have some basic fears from back then — like sharks or whatever. Jaws ruined me for going into the ocean.
In “Ben’s My Friend,” you talk about going to a Postal Service show and how it had a great effect on you. Ben Gibbard is your friend, yet his career has gone far more mainstream than yours has. Do you ever crave that mass acceptance? What does success look like to you?

I never craved the acceptance, but I go through “why do they have it and I don’t?” The first time I saw Death Cab was on a Sunday afternoon at Bottom Of The Hill in San Francisco. So it was remarkable to cut to 13 years later and not be able to find a parking space at Ben’s concert. I was happy for Ben, but I was also in a state of feeling inferior, wondering why I’m having trouble selling 500 tickets, and Ben is selling 17,000. Ben is my friend; I have deep respect for him and his talent. But there is a “thing” that artists go through. We’re forbidden to speak of it, it’s viewed as petty, competitive, bitter. But it’s there. I’ve traveled with many a venting musician and I wanted to write about that feeling, to share something human.
Is it difficult to be friends with other artists and not be competitive? Are you motivated by other people’s success?
I know a lot of artists, we travel in the same circles, but we just look at each other and go, “I get it.” There’s really not much to talk about. - www.caldoverderecords.com/


Mark Kozelek & Desertshore, Mark Kozelek & Desertshore (2013)

Recorded at San Francisco's Hyde Street Studios in March of 2013, Desertshore's 3rd release, Mark Kozelek and Desertshore, features 10 new songs co-written by guitarist Phil Carney (formerly of Red House Painters), pianist Chris Connolly, and Sun Kil Moon vocalist Mark Kozelek. While Kozelek guested as producer, vocalist and bassist on Desertshore's critically acclaimed Drifting Her Majesty and Drawing Of Threes, Mark Kozelek & Desertshore finds Kozelek singing throughout the record's entirety. Lyrical themes range from a day spent in New Orleans, an encounter with Church of Satan founder Anton Lavey, and the passing of friends and relatives. With drummer Mike Stevens (Sun Kil Moon) on board, this album finds the band in full force, making their way from the Motown swing of 'Mariette', to the Crazy Horse guitar innerplay of' 'Livingstone Bramble',to the delicate, Ravel influenced album closer, 'Brothers'. - www.caldoverderecords.com/#mkds

On “Livingstone Bramble”, from his new album with Desertshore, Mark Kozelek sets a lonely, late-night scene: It’s 3 am, his girlfriend is asleep in bed, and he’s got insomnia. “So I called up my Spanish promoter about a tour coming up in October, it was 4 am when I hung and I cuddled up next to my love.” Except for the strict rhymes, it almost sounds like he’s reading directly from his diary: describing a hotel room that looks like every other hotel room, recounting the most mundane aspects of the music business, watching Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini fight Livingstone Bramble on ESPN Classic.
For those uninitiated into the cult of Kozelek, such seemingly reverse-engineered lyrics might sound a bit cynical in their plain-spokenness: a bad-faith effort by a songwriter putting the least amount of effort possible into connecting words to form phrases and connecting phrases to form thoughts. On the other hand, these songs deliver grave truths, which means Mark Kozelek & Desertshore may be an ideal starting point for nonbelievers trying to figure out why so many people care.
Taking the old adage “write what you know” as the alpha and omega of his process, Kozelek pens songs with very little fictionalizing imagination, or at the very least he slyly disguises his fabrications as matters of pure fact. So maybe he really didn’t buy The Satanic Bible at a mall in Ohio and maybe he really hasn’t actually met Anton LaVey, head of the Satanic Church, as he claims on “Hey You Bastards I’m Still Here”. But he sings those verses like pure autobiography, so you believe him, just as you believe him when he says he loves the movie Papillon and really misses Jason Molina.
Whether he’s singing solo or with collaborators like Desertshore or the Album Leaf, Kozelek presents his songs as aggressively autobiographical. Even “Don’t Ask About My Husband”, on which he sings from the point of view of a cheating wife, comes across as a work of empathy-- as though he’s trying to see the world from the point of view of a friend or lover. Because he lives so comfortably in his own words, even the most banal event in a Kozelek song accrues poignancy, if only because he’s doing it alone. These are solitary songs, sharply introverted and occasionally emotionally desolate, but they are never artless.
This collaboration with Desertshore-- a band featuring former Red House Painters guitarist Phil Carney, keyboard player Chris Connolly, and Sun Kil Moon drummer Mike Stevens-- is Kozelek’s fourth full-length release of 2013, his second featuring all new compositions, and his second featuring a prominent collaborator. It’s also arguably his best of the calendar year, thanks to strong songs as well as the band’s sensitive accompaniment. Rather than evoke the romanticism of the road (as Sun Kil Moon did on 2003’s Ghosts of Great Highway) or the emotional detachment of touring life (as Kozelek does on every live album), Desertshore pry open his brain and soundtrack his thoughts. On “Katowice or Cologne” and “Don’t Ask About My Husband”, Carney and Stevens put some rhythmic thrust behind Kozelek’s conversational cadence, and Carney’s guitar lends “You Are Not of My Blood” an eerie somnambulatory quality, like Slint covering Santo & Johnny.
They also tease out and amplify his sharp sense of humor, which can often get lost in his deadpan delivery. “I can play like Fripp or Johnny Marr, and I can play circles ‘round Jay Farrar,” he boasts or possibly just daydreams on “Livingstone Bramble”, and when he claims, “I hate Nels Cline,” Carney inserts some scribbles and skreeks behind him, suggesting a very sly parody of Wilco’s artsy noise. It’s one of the album’s best moments-- and also its funniest.
Just when you think Kozelek might be relating his days without reflecting on them, he lays out a stunner of a lyric to catch you off guard. “Tavoris Cloud”, named after another boxer, laments the sudden passing of his pet cat (who “slipped off to kitty heaven”) and, much more seriously, the death of his friend Tim Mooney of the San Francisco band American Music Club. “I’m grateful for your love,” he sings, “but at the age of 46 I’m still one fucked-up little kid who cannot figure anything out.” The senselessness of death-- the universe’s utter antipathy toward human closure-- reduces us all to idiot children, but it makes Kozelek revel in the small moments, like watching an old boxing match or waking up next to the woman he loves. The power of this collaboration, which will hopefully be the first of many to come, is that sometimes he sounds like he can’t believe his good fortune. - Stephen M. Deusner

While most every indie rock fan is familiar with Mark Kozelek’s work in some form or another (be it solo, with Sun Kil Moon, or with the Red House Painters, which are all basically his projects at the end of the day anyways), even the most die-hard devotees of Kozelek’s moody rock vibe have had a hard time keeping up in the past few years, as Kozelek has been releasing material at an absolutely Pollard-esque pace. Since the start of 2012 alone, he’s released the Sun Kil Moon album Among the Leaves, the On Tour: A Documentary soundtrack, the Like Rats covers disc, Live at Phoenix Public House Melbourne, his Jimmy LaValle collaboration Perils from the Sea, and countless other bonus live giveaways on his Caldo Verde label website.
Yet ever since he got his nylon string guitar on with 2010’s Sun Kil Moon album Admiral Fell Promises, it started to feel a bit like Kozelek was getting into a bit of a creative rut, circling the same tropes, creating albums that were relatively monotonous in terms of tone and texture. True Kozelek aficionados could still catch him producing acts like Retribution Gospel Choir, yet one of the lesser-known acts on his label was a group called Desertshore, which was formed by Phil Carney and Chris Connolly, two alumni from Kozelek’s former outfits. Kozelek guested on the group’s instrumental debut album, 2010’s Drifting Your Majesty, and took some vocal duties on the group’s second, 2011’s Drawing of Threes. Even with that help though, Desertshore, seemingly named after a lesser-known Nico album, never could fully step out from under Kozelek’s looming shadow.
Now, with the aptly-titled Mark Kozelek & Desertshore, the members of Desertshore play the Band to Kozelek’s Dylan, and the result is a loose, personal, surprisingly raw album that features a slightly less rigid version of the full-band “Kozelek sound” while the lyrical front strips away a lot of metaphor and simile to give the whole thing a notably straightforward tone, and the new direction, surprisingly, suits Kozelek well.
While Kozelek has been able to write one-offs goofs before, a song like “Don’t Ask About My Husband”, with its old Wurlitzer spinning in the background, makes it seem like Kozelek is gunning directly for some Blonde on Blonde comparisons with this disc, and while he spends the entire chorus of “Livingstone Bramble” calling out how much he hates Wilco’s guitarist Nels Cline (while bragging about his own guitar virtuosity), it’s obvious that Kozelek seems to be having fun with his old friends, sometimes even getting downright goofy. While, at times, he’s expressed dismay about how some people use the names of real people he’s peppered throughout his songs (like Glenn Tipton, for example) as de-facto points of interpretation as to what his songs are actually about, he makes it painfully clear this time out what each song is about: no interpretation necessary.
Simply take the emotional closer “Brothers”, for example, which uses a plaintive piano and Desertshore’s higher-pitched backing vocals to give the listener a trip through Kozelek’s own family history, no repeated choruses to be found but the structure this is in place is simple, effective. It’s hard to hear about family members dying of pancreatic cancer and even natural causes, but the upfront vocal delivery and lack of a drawn-out closing coda make this family history tale come off as very matter-of-fact, raw but not melodramatic. Even when being as uninhibited with his lyrics as possible, Kozelek prefers to not overdramatize his own details, and he’s right in doing so: indulgence has never been his calling card, and even in this context, it’d be a hard sell.
Because the album is so deliberately personal in its lyrical tropes, one would almost be pressed to call this album a confessional record, although some inevitably would want to box it into that corner. Instead, Mark Kozelek & Desertshore is just plainspoken. The chorus of “Tavoris Cloud” sums up the unadorned lyrical nature of the album quite succinctly: “At the age of 46 / I’m still one fucked up little kid / Who cannot figure anything out / Who gets upset and starts to pout.” Conversely, “Hey You Bastard I’m Still Here” is a tale about how he missed out on meeting one of his idols before he died, and talks about how reading the Satanic Bible and watching the film Papillon had lasting impressions on him at a young age. Fans and would-be biographers of Kozelek will have enough to pick apart on this album alone, but truth be told, Kozelek is better writing his own biography than any of us ever could – he just happens to do it through song. - Evan Sawdey
While Mark Kozelek & Desertshore‘s rewards are substantially modest, the tight 10-track collection here represents a new turning point for Kozelek as a songwriter, absolutely not caring about what anyone thinks about him at this point, which led him to getting some of his friends together to make a sweet little record that’s more biographical than allegorical, a fascinating move that works on the lyrical front even if the musical backing, loose and rambling as it is, touches on concepts we’ve heard from Kozelek before (although Red House Painters fans will get a thrill hearing “You Are Not My Blood”, which is one of the most deliberate RHP echoes we’ve heard from Kozelek in years). Although Desertshore do very much get pushed to the background on this record (because this is, as it’s almost always been, the Mark Kozelek show), the group proves to be a great backing group that could very well unleash even more fascinating angles to Kozelek’s songwriting down the line

Yesterday morning, I voted for the first time in a citywide election. I biked back to the neighborhood where I grew up, walked up the steps of the elementary school voting station to which I’d accompanied my parents so many times as a child, flashed my ID, and cast my ballot. The voting machine hummed and beeped, another vote added to the hundreds already registered. On some level, I expected a more ceremonious fanfare at this unique milestone of my nascent adulthood. I slapped on my “I Voted” sticker and biked to my dorm, feeling a nagging lack of fulfillment. I guess this is just something that I’m going to have to get used to.
Mark Kozelek understands this feeling. At 46 years old, the former Red House Painters frontman is in the midst of an unprecedentedly prolific period of output, which scans mostly as the byproduct of an obsession with his increasing age and the dissatisfaction that comes with it. It’s tempting to call this a midlife crisis, but to do so would be reductive; in truth, Kozelek has managed to tackle his existential fear with remarkable nuance, grace, and self-effacing humor on his recent records. Among The Leaves, Kozelek’s 2012 album under his Sun Kil Moon moniker, documented his sexual infidelities and the weariness of life as a touring musician, the fear of a boring, complacent existence. On Perils From The Sea, his solo collaboration with The Album Leaf’s Jimmy LaValle from earlier this year, Kozelek settled into storytelling mode, mining the past for inspiration on how to cope with his impending future. Now, on his new collaboration with Desertshore, Kozelek sets his lyrical scope on death itself, and in doing so, crafts some of his best, most moving material in years.
We begin with “Mariette” a gentle love song set in New Orleans. Immediately, the track establishes a creative dynamic between Kozelek and the Desertshore crew, spearheaded by former Red House Painters guitarist Phil Carney and pianist Chris Connolly. Their instrumental flourishes provide a fresh backing sound for Kozelek’s wistful words and weathered voice, a welcome change from the sparse, nylon-string guitar sound of Sun Kil Moon’s recent output. On lyrical and musical terms, it’s a rather sweet, delicate affair, until Kozelek sees the Superdome and is reminded of all the people who died during Hurricane Katrina. He brushes it off, not wanting to let this morbid thought spoil his time with the song’s titular lover, but his fear of death remains in the back of his head, a constant, dull nag of the inevitable.
This scene sets the template for Mark Kozelek & Desertshore, an album that is often as tender and even humorous as it is bleak and morose. Even while struggling to reconcile his existence, the Mark Kozelek of 2013 is clearly a more self-aware figure than the young Kozelek of yesteryear, who in 1992 bemoaned that “24 keeps pounding at my door.” Instead of relying on weepy, confessional songwriting for this record, Kozelek makes his point by analogy, resulting in a lyrical corpus that is markedly more harrowing, even as it allows for occasional comic relief.
The lyric pages of Mark Kozelek & Desertshore are literally crowded with Kozelek’s dead friends, relatives, and acquaintances, and the compendium of these names in the context of Kozelek’s songs make his own existence seem disturbingly solitary. On the terrific slowcore throwback “Sometimes I Can’t Stop,” he expresses weary resignation to the fact that “nature comes crushing, taking my brothers down” and sings about the death of his good friend Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia back in March 2013. Earlier, on “Hey You Bastards I’m Still Here,” he sings about meeting Satanic Church leader Anton LaVey after purchasing a copy of the Satanic Bible at a mall in Ohio. LaVey invites him to a party at his house at some point and Kozelek doesn’t go for one reason or another. Later that year, LaVey dies, and Kozelek sings about his “old Victorian… black as bond oil” being torn down and replaced by “shiny new condos.” It’s a weird, almost magical-realist moment of questionable authenticity, but one that Kozelek depicts with as much sincerity as anything else on the record. That’s part of the genius of Kozelek’s writing at this point—he delivers the absurd and the honest with equal sincerity.
The album’s sparsest track, “Tavoris Cloud,” is also perhaps its most evocative in this sense. He begins by admitting that he misses his cat, who died, Kozelek disturbingly specifies, “in August 2011.” Throughout the next three minutes, the song becomes exponentially more emotionally wracked, developing a heightened tone of urgency that threatens to burst from the musical boundaries imposed by its hushed, acoustic instrumentation. It culminates with an openhearted Kozelek documenting “2012, last July” when he learned that longtime Sun Kil Moon drummer Tim Mooney had suddenly died at 53. “He seemed to be much stronger / He was too young to up and leave,” he eulogizes. By terrifying contrast, Kozelek notes, “At the age of 46, I’m still one fucked up little kid… whose habits I can’t kick.” Seven years isn’t such a long time, and Kozelek knows that the clock is ticking.
The album ends with the 7-minute piano ballad “Brothers,” a plaintive elegy in which Kozelek documents the deaths of three of his father’s nine siblings, all of whom are now dead. The deaths of these particular three are various—one died at Pearl Harbor in 1941, one in the late ‘80s of pancreatic cancer, and the last in “late 2012” of natural causes. Kozelek tells each of their stories with a uniquely detached tone, as these are, after all, not his stories but those of his father. And yet, with the final image of Kozelek and his 80-year-old dad “watching reruns in his living room,” the analogy becomes clear. “I’ll miss him like hell when I can no longer hear the sound of his voice,” he admits. But what Kozelek fears most is not the abandonment that comes with death, but rather the idea of an unfulfilled life. Although he loves his father, he doesn’t want to die like his dad soon will, an old man who never left his hometown, never transcended his circumstances. From his perspective as a 46-year-old “fucked up little kid,” this outcome must seem frighteningly possible; however, to those of us who love Mark Kozelek’s music, such an end seems impossible. For us, Mark Kozelek & Desertshore is, in a sense, a self-actualizing work; it overcomes its deeply ingrained fears by virtue of its very existence. But as someone who loves this frenetic, disturbed, and deeply insecure era of Kozelek’s songwriting, all I can say is that I hope this album hasn’t completely eradicated his fears.
Christopher Cappello

Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle - Perils From The Sea

Mark Kozelek & Jimmy Lavalle, Perils From The Sea (2013)      
Listen to Track 6: Baby In Death Can I Rest Next To Your Grave

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. Near the top of that list are Mark Kozelek and Jimmy LaValle, representing Sun Kil Moon and The Album Leaf respectively, and their collaborative effort Perils From the Sea asks you to enjoy it by candlelight.
Both men come from bands which are more like monikers. Their work is thoroughly solo, the innovation of singular and brilliant minds. Kozelek first hit radars with his band Red House Painters and continues to be a prolific and acoustic-driven songwriter with Sun Kil Moon as well as releases under his own name. LaValle’s The Album Leaf has always been something of a post-rock LCD Soundsystem, a synthesized Sigur Ros. At first glance, a collaboration doesn’t appear obvious, but it ends up being tremendously worthwhile.
It’s really striking how collaborative the effort really is. The instrumentation seems more LaValle’s doing, but even that’s injected with Kozelek’s sort of brooding slowness. The Album Leaf tends more to the instrumental side of things, but that project’s sense of natural musicality shows up in the lyrics Kozelek lets out here. It’s not a matter of this being where one person’s influence ends and the other’s begins. Instead, it’s pure amalgamation, synthesis and alchemy.
No song here is under five minutes, and more than half are over seven. There aren’t very many hooks to speak of, but both musicians are adept at putting enough musical curiosities and inviting sounds to keep the listeners’ ears trained in through their odysseys. The tempo never really increases to more than that of an average heartbeat and even at full volume, it would be pretty easy to sleep to each of the songs here. It’s never really boring though, walking the tightrope between banal and balmy with a surgeon’s skill.
Most every song here is dedicated to impressionistic storytelling. Kozelek has long had the skill of coupling introspection with stories that weren’t, at least at first glance, autobiographical. His has been a vocabulary of ghosts and breezes, and these tales are perfectly accompanied by LaValle’s perfectly humanized synthesizers. Make sure to play it at nighttime; let it guide you through sleep cycles, insomnia and everything in between. It’ll make you appreciate both artists individually and their collaboration even more. - Mack Hayden

Sun Kil Moon

Red House Painters

Red House Painters was primarily the vehicle of singer/songwriter Mark Kozelek, an evocative, compelling performer of rare emotional intensity. Like Mark Eitzel of American Music Club, to whose work the Painters were invariably compared and to whom their early success owed a tremendous debt, Kozelek laid his soul bare on record, conjuring harrowingly acute tales of pain, despair, and loss; unlike Eitzel, Nick Drake, and other poets of decay, Kozelek's autobiographical songs walked their tightrope without a net -- forsaking the safety offered by metaphor and allegory, he faced his demons in the first person, creating a singularly haunting body of work unparalleled in its vulnerability and honesty.
Kozelek was born and raised in the Midwest, and formed his first band, God Forbid, while in his teens. After relocating to Atlanta, GA, he struck up a friendship with drummer Anthony Koutsos, and formed the first incarnation of Red House Painters. A move to San Francisco followed, where guitarist Gorden Mack and bassist Jerry Vessel rounded out the group's roster.
While performing on the Bay Area club circuit, the quartet came to the attention of American Music Club's Eitzel, who often named Red House Painters his favorite band. Through Eitzel, a demo tape of recordings cut in 1989 and 1990 made their way to the London offices of 4AD Records, which signed the group and in 1992 issued the unvarnished demos -- a superb collection of spartan, atmospheric melodies lurking behind Kozelek's ghostly vocals -- as the LP Down Colorful Hill.

In 1993, Red House Painters emerged from the studio with over two-dozen new recordings, which they issued on back-to-back eponymously titled albums. Taken in tandem, the LPs established Kozelek as a unique songwriter capable of conveying stunning emotional depths; compositions like "Grace Cathedral Park," "Katy Song," "Strawberry Hill," "Evil," and "Uncle Joe" expanded greatly upon the emotional palette evidenced on the first record, unflinchingly detailing Kozelek's erratic, abusive nature and troubled background.
A two-year lay-off followed, during which time only an EP, Shock Me -- a brief set built around a dramatic reading of an old Kiss song -- appeared in 1994. Finally, the luminous Ocean Beach, a collection of pastoral, almost sunny performances, appeared in 1995, although not without controversy; initially, 4AD did not want to release the record, further straining already tenuous relations between the band and the label.           

When Kozelek began work on a long-discussed solo album, 4AD threw in the towel; the album, a more rock-oriented work dubbed Songs for a Blue Guitar, appeared in 1996 on the Island imprint Supreme. Although Kozelek was the only bandmember to appear on the record, it was nonetheless issued under the Red House Painters name in order to give the group a push as it headed into the second phase of its career. However, the major-label mergers of the late '90s left Red House Painters without a record deal, and their album, Old Ramon, in limbo. During that time, 4AD released the simply titled Retrospective, a best-of collection, and Kozelek kept busy, appearing in Cameron Crowe's critically acclaimed rock & roll love story Almost Famous, and releasing several projects on the Badman label, including a John Denver tribute album, a benefit album for a San Francisco AIDS charity, and Rock 'n' Roll Singer, a mini-album of classic rock covers and new material. Eventually, Kozelek bought back the rights to Old Ramon and Sub Pop released it in spring 2001, nearly four years after it was recorded. - www.allmusic.com/

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