Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon, and Mark Kozelek Album Reviews

San Francisco quartet the Red House Painters (named after Tennesseean painting crew, The International League Of Revolutionary House Painters) made their debut with 1992’s Down Colorful Hill on the 4AD label. The band fitted into the recently coined slowcore genre, with their stately arrangements and introspective lyrics. The word band is a little misleading, as the Red House Painters were largely a brand name for leader Mark Kozelek, who wrote all of the songs, sang lead vocals, and whose records released as Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon, and under his own name form a coherent career path.

Kozelek’s early work can be oppressively dark and depressive, but since 1995’s Ocean Beach, more light has sneaked in. Kozelek’s output can be frustrating – a lot of his albums are drawn out as his song lengths stretch out over six or seven minutes. As a result, he’s made a lot of good albums, but few great ones. But since 1992, he’s written a lot of great songs, perhaps as many as any writer from his era, but it can take some patience to find them. I find Sun Kil Moon’s Ghosts of the Great Highway and April to be his strongest albums.

I’ve only covered up to 2010’s Admiral Fell Promises at this stage, but Kozelek’s career in the 2010’s has certainly been interesting. His previous lyrics were tightly constructed and elegant, to the point where he was able to justify printing them in the book Nights of Passed Over. But in his recent work, his lyrical approach has changed markedly, to a stream of consciousness style, where it feels like he’s releasing his first drafts instead of his polished versions.

They are the picturesque night
The casting city lights
On the bay flowing into the ocean glowing
From ‘Lost Verses’, 2008

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I went to see him in Ohio; he had a horseshoe shaped scar on his scalp and he talked real slow
We played pool like we did in our teens and his head was shaved and he still wore bell-bottomed jeans
From ‘Micheline’, 2014

But this approach has proved successful as his recent albums, especially Sun Kil Moon’s 2014 album Benji, have given him more mainstream attention than he’s enjoyed previously. He’s been remarkably prolific post 2010, which is one reason I haven’t covered these albums yet; from what I’ve heard, he’s still writing some excellent material, although he might be spreading himself too thinly, and song titles like ‘This Is My First Day and I’m Indian and I Work at a Gas Station’ from 2015’s Universal Themes suggest that his recent approach may be sliding into self parody.

Top Favourite Mark Kozelek Songs

Lost Verses
Grace Cathedral Park
Gustavo
Tonight The Sky
Carry Me Ohio
Summer Dress
Find Me, Ruben Olivares
Make Like Paper
Neverending Math Equation
San Geronimo