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Mark Kozelek

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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

——————————–

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

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red-house-painters-down-colorful-hill

Down Colorful Hill – Red House Painters

1992, 7/10. Mark Kozelek is often pigeon-holed as a navel-gazing depressive, and most of the evidence for this is contained on this debut.

Red House Painters Rollercoaster

Red House Painters (Rollercoaster) – Red House Painters

1993, 8.5/10. An edited version of Rollercoast would be a career highlight, but even without a trim it’s the best record of Kozelek’s early career.

Red House Painters Bridge

Red House Painters (Bridge) – Red House Painters

1993, 5.5/10. Consisting of outtakes from the previous self-titled album, Bridge is among the weaker works from Kozelek’s oeuvre.

Red House Painters Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach – Red House Painters

1995, 8.5/10. ‘Over My Head’ is so cheerful in its comfort that it’s hard to believe that its author wrote ‘Medicine Bottle’ just three years earlier.

Songs for a Blue Guitar – Red House Painters

1996, 7.5/10. Sloppy and self-indulgent in places, Songs For A Blue Guitar is also melodic, pretty, and likeable.

mark_kozelek__rock_n_roll_singer

Rock ‘n’ Roll Singer – Mark Kozelek

2000, 6.5/10. On this seven track EP, Kozelek reworks AC/DC songs into gentle acoustic pieces and covers John Denver.

Mark Kozelek What's Next To The Moon

What’s Next To The Moon – Mark Kozelek

2001, 6/10. Kozelek delivers an entire album of converting brash AC/DC rockers into vulnerable acoustic pieces.

Red House Painters Old Ramon

Old Ramon – Red House Painters

2001, 7/10. Spread over seventy minutes, with an overarching air of resignation, Old Ramon is too diffuse to be an effective album.

ghosts-of-the-great-highway-sun-kil-moon

Ghosts of the Great Highway – Sun Kil Moon

2003, 8.5/10. The slow-core self absorption of the early Red House Painters is gone, and Sun Kil Moon’s work is akin to Neil Young.

tiny-cities-sun-kil-moon

Tiny Cities – Sun Kil Moon

2005, 8/10. A concise album of Modest Mouse covers, where Isaac Brock’s dense lyrics push Kozelek’s music in different directions.

sun-kil-moon-april

April – Sun Kil Moon

2008, 9/10. The backdrop for the poignant April was the passing of Kozelek’s former partner, who inspired ‘Katy Song’.

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