Down Colorful Hill

(1992), 7/10
Mark Kozelek is often pigeon-holed as a navel-gazing one-dimensional depressive, and most of the evidence in his catalogue to back this up can be found on the Red House Painters’ debut Down Colorful Hill. Kozelek would soon display a wider range of emotions on record, even though it’s difficult to criticise this material too severely since it’s genuinely expressive and largely autobiographical. It is certainly potent, but the lyrics can be overwrought in places. While Down Colorful Hill has enjoyed acclaim as the group’s key record, it’s a little too unrefined to deserve this entirely. The key track ‘Medicine Bottle’ rightfully earn its place as one of the group’s most prominent tracks; it’s still somewhat sophomoric (“no more breath in my hair/or ladies’ underwear/tossed up over the alarm clock”), but it’s engrossing, with Kozelek’s half-whispered vocals some of the most intense ever committed to tape, and the lyrics describing addiction in an open manner. ‘Japanese To English’ is more straightforward, and it’s just great songwriting with a strong melody and a succinct structure that contrasts with the more drawn out nature of the other tracks. Down Colorful Hill also starts out and ends strongly with ’24’ and ‘Michael’, two more personal acoustic tracks from Kozelek. There’s something disquieting about Down Colorful Hill, like reading someone’s diary; it’s somewhat unfocused and not proofread for public viewing, but it’s often riveting and evocative.

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