Kozelek's freewheeling album full of songs from the heart
And that is exactly what Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek has done with his new album, Among the Leaves (Caldo Verde Records). Backed by gentle rolling acoustic rhythms, the songs represent a window to the place and time where Kozelek finds himself at the age of 45.
On lead single Sunshine in Chicago, Kozelek sat in his hotel room hours before he was set to play a show, writing a stream-of-consciousness song, pulling together abstract memories and mundane details triggered by being in the city. So you get a recount of the foot massage he had earlier in the day, the three-month holiday his dad used to have as a child visiting his uncle in the city and memories of his gigs with previous band Red House Painters in Chicago.
“Sunshine in Chicago makes me feel pretty sad/ My band played here a lot in the Nineties when we had/ Lots of female fans, and fuck, they all were cute/ Now I just sign posters for guys in tennis shoes.”
It is a self-deprecating moment that opens the listener up to this vulnerable songwriter baring his heart in an off-the-cuff way.
Commenting on the freewheeling nature of his new album in a recent interview with music website Pitchfork, Kozelek said: “With this record, I wanted to give my first instincts a chance without shooting them down immediately, which I sometimes do.
“Songs like Song for Richard Collopy and Not Much Rhymes with Everything’s Awesome All the Time were very impulsive. Even my engineers were looking at me like ‘What in the fuck are you doing?’ ” said Kozelek. “And that is exactly the reaction I wanted. I did not want to put myself or anyone else asleep with another quintessential Mark Kozelek album.”
Uncomfortable and vulnerable
Well, Kozelek’s new songwriting process has paid dividends and Among the Leaves is arguably the best album he has recorded since 2008’s magnificent April.
Another highlight is the song I Know It’s Pathetic but That Was the Greatest Night of My Life, about a fan Kozelek met in Moscow and whom he kissed, albeit briefly. In the title Kozelek recounts a letter he received from the girl a few months later who told him that, however pathetic, it turned out to be the greatest night of her life.
These recounted moments are awkward, uncomfortable and vulnerable and revelling in these states creates a portrait of the emotive make-up of one of the finest songwriters in the United States.
The song Track 8, which has running commentary on the creative process, tells us: “Songwriting’s lonely, songwriting hurts/ A relentless itching bedbug curse.”
Kozelek then sings about the difficulties of songwriting, referencing fallen heroes such as Elliott Smith, who died a violent death in 2003, and Shannon Hoon, who died from a cocaine overdose in 1995.
He makes a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that he may swap his musical career for the nine-to-five existence some day.
But it is Kozelek’s introspective, somewhat ironic, look at his own creative process that intrigues: “I wrote this one and I know it ain’t great/ we’ll probably sequence it track number eight/ And pick up some water at the 7-11/ On my way to the mastering session.”
If you are unfamiliar with Kozelek’s work, then, to fill the gap, think of the compositions of Bonnie Prince Billy, Bill Callahan, Bon Iver and José Gonzalez.
About these, Kozelek said in the Pitchfork interview: “When I get compared to artists like José Gonzalez or Bon Iver, I cannot help but think I have been doing this since those guys were in third grade.
“José is a friend of mine — a nice guy — but I make cracks about the comparisons occasionally, as a way of coping. He will understand it when he is 45.”