Up at seven, home by five... (Among The Leaves)


Kozelek returns with another flawless album, titled Among The Leaves, twice as long as the others. Or, if you're counting title words, like the AV Club, decades longer than the others- it drags. An appropriate adjective for Mark Kozelek's mellow, but solemn vocals and calming acoustic accompaniments. Critical reviews are plentiful-- in particular, Stereogum featured Among The Leaves as their album of the week, where Tom Breihan sums it up pretty well-- so I'll refer to his critique while focusing on my personal reaction instead.
"... an artist who could easily fly under your radar — one who, in fact, has flown under mine for a couple of decades now."
Anand Tucker's 2005 film, Shopgirl, my first exposure to Sun Kil Moon, was an adorable, poignant movie which featured two tracks from Kozelek's solo debut, Ghosts of the Great Highway. I still prefer soundtrack scores to compilations where the songs always appear overtly chosen, however, the music in this movie was outstanding. Even the trailer selections were brilliant. But if I hadn't wiki'd the crap out of Jason Schwartzman, etc., "Carry Me Ohio" would've just been that sweet song with the memorable guitar arpeggio.

Clocking in at six-and-a-half minutes, "Carry Me Ohio" is one of his shorter songs. (In fact, the majority of tracks on Among The Leaves are uncharacteristically short, which makes good introductory material for the impatient.) I like to think that any punk who isn't able to endure eight minutes of his crooning is missing out on a whole aesthetic mood. Much of his success can be attributed to tonal clarity. No grit or rasp, but somehow, he's indecipherable.
... "weird guitar tunings and barely audible depressive mumbles".
It's real hard to imagine Kozelek's listeners lyricmania-ing his songs. They probably haven't bothered to figure out word-for-word what he's trying to say, because he's good like that. There's a distinctive quality to his pretty drone. (Proof? Listen to this Jackson 5 cover.) Like The Beatles or Kanye West, when you hear them, you just know it's them. That being said, "King Fish" may be misleading; its heavy emphasis on bass adds another dimension. It's not quite Sun Kil Moon, but it's nice.

If music were recorded with film filters, Among The Leaves chose sepia. It's the colour of old photo, a collection of memories strung together in no logical order, which someone tried to make an incredibly artistic stop-motion film out of.
"These aren’t songs that’ll end up in a car commercial or anything; they are applicable to absolutely nobody else in the world but Kozelek. They’re funny sometimes, but that’s mostly because it’s funny to hear a guy on an acoustic guitar unloading concrete observations in the tone of voice that most of his peers use to vaguely plumb the mysteries of the universe."
The man's gone ahead and named track eleven, "Track Number Eight", and it's not a miscommunication with his label. In "That Bird Has A Broken Wing" (stream above), Kozelek refers to a woman he met in Europe, presumably on tour. He recalls that she didn't stay past two. It's a beautifully refreshing delivery of the subject, really. Could've been Belgian, could've been French, could've been Dutch, I didn't get a chance.
"... the man deserves credit for leaving it all out in the open, watering down none of it, making no attempt to make himself seem likable."
All anti-heroes receive more love than generic protagonists. Every time iTunes decides to shuffle and deal me Sun Kil Moon, I develop a strong emotional attachment to the track. I won't let it go for weeks, and when I do let it go, I'll forget about it until it reappears in the queue. Predictably, Among The Leaves will be a resident in my heavy rotation for a couple months to come.


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