Mark Kozelek made his name during the early 90′s as the leading man and singer/songwriter behind Red House Painters. Since the Red House Painters’ disbanding in the late 1990′s, Kozelek has continued to release acclaimed albums under the guise Sun Kil Moon. Kozelek’s latest installment as Sun Kil Moon, Among the Leaves, comes 20 years after the RHP’s epic debut Down Colorful Hill. With the possible exception of the confused Modest Mouse cover album Tiny Cities, he has a critically untarnished record. Sun Kil Moon isfittingly named after South Korean bantamweight boxer Sung-kil Moon as Kozelek’s music is both light and graceful, but it can also sting you with emotional jabs or rock you with musical hooks.
Among the Leaves continues the simple, pared down approach of 2010′s Admiral Fell Promises. Most songs are just Kozelek and his guitar, though some simple drumming and warm strings do strengthen songs like “The Winery” and the title track. Like his earlier releases, the album has its fair share of pretty, sentimental narratives. “That Was the Greatest Night of My Life” tells the story of an apologetic note received from a female fan months after declining his offer to spend the night. On “The Moderately Talented Yet Not So Attractive Middle Aged Man” Kozelek, or rather ‘the narrator,’ fondly recalls a charming, young opening act who may not have had a gift for songwriting, but was an accomplished kisser. The mournful “Peter Collopy” is an elegy for the greatest guitar repairman out west who could make a worn out Gibson sound better than it ever had before.
Among the Leaves also contains a handful of acerbic notes. The narrator of “That Bird Has a Broken Wing” explores the male id and fidelity’s submission to lechery. The bipolar “Elaine” transitions back and forth between warm finger-picking and a churning, angry blues riff like a series of make-ups and break-ups. “Red Poison” affirms the fact that one can buy anything in Chinatown, including poisonous chinaware for the disposal of unwanted lovers.
The strongest tracks on the record, however, showcase Kozelek’s humor in the face of sadness. “Sunshine in Chicago” misleads the listener with a gloomy reminiscence of his father’s youth followed by: “My band played here a lot in the 90′s when we had / lots of female fans and fuck they all were cute. / Now I sign posters for guys in tennis shoes.” Apparently his gloom is weighted just as heavily in the demographical transition into musical adulthood. “Track Number 8” has a humorous meta-folk aspect to it. A somber but gorgeous harmony backs a list of the woes of songwriting which is apparently both a chore and a burden. Kozelek then goes off on a silly tangent about naming his four cats and lamenting the fact that the lyrics he wrote the night before are totally useless. He admits: “Well, I wrote this one and I know it ain’t great. / We’ll probably sequence it track number 8.”
“UK Blues” is the pinnacle of humor on Among the Leaves. The entire album feels like a tour with Kozelek name-dropping a city or cross-street at every turn, but it’s the myriad take-offs and landings in “UK Blues” that make one feel like a sad stranger in a sad, strange land. The song is a homesick yet hysterical travelogue through Europe: plane to hotel to show and repeat. Kozelek sorrowfully groans, “London, London. / It’s all the rage if your favorite color’s beige… / Look right, look left / makes me think of death.” Bristol’s apparently made up of “Cobblestone streets, [and] people missing teeth.” Each show he plays is a comedy of errors, be it a heckling crowd member at a small venue or playing new songs to an audience that only wants to hear Red House Painters’ early singles. The album goes on for two more tracks, but “UK Blues” would have been a more appropriate coda.
For those of you who have been Red House Painters and/or Sun Kil Moon fans to date, you won’t be blown away, but you definitely won’t be disappointed. To return to the boxing analogy, the album may not win by knockout, but it carries with it all the drama of a good, long bout. Among the Leaves is rather a unanimous win-by-decision in an impressive 17-round fight.
Sun Kil Moon – Among the Leaves tracklist:
- “I Know It’s Pathetic but that Was the Greatest Night of My Life”
- “Sunshine in Chicago”
- “The Moderately Talented Yet Not So Attractive Middle Aged Man”
- “That Bird Has a Broken Wing”
- “The Winery”
- “Young Love”
- “Song For Richard Collopy”
- “Among the Leaves”
- “Red Poison”
- “Track Number 8″
- “Not Much Rhymes with Everything’s Awesome at All Times”
- “King Fish”
- “Lonely Mountain”
- “UK Blues”
- “UK Blues 2″
- “Black Kite”