Sun Kil Moon - Among the Leaves
Release Date - May 29, 2012
Record Label - Caldo Verde
If I had to make a list (which I'm starting to regret that I did as I get older) of my favorite albums, Ghosts of the Great Highway, Sun Kil Moon's first release from 2003 would make the list no matter how short it was.
Of course, Sun Kil Moon is just the front for Mark Kozelek, the brains behind 90s (and shortly into the 00s) stalwarts Red House Painters. Kozelek has taken his brainchildishness to a new level on Sun Kil Moon's last few releases April, Admiral Fell Promises, and Among the Leaves -- the latest offering. In certain ways, April represented an outgrowth of longer tracks on Ghosts of the Great Highway. Opener, "Lost Verses" sounded like it emerged somewhere out of "Carry Me Ohio." In a similar manner, Among the Leaves picks up right were Admiral Fell Promises left off -- a pensive nylon stringed guitar, Kozelek's economic poetry, an aire of devastation left somewhere in the past.
Everything in moderation, even personal vows to never try and measure albums up to other albums, it's therefore impossible to not try to draw whatever Kozelek does up to the jewel Ghosts. And (hence the reason for such personal vows) impossible for anything to live up to where an album lives in your mind. In certain ways, Kozelek has perfected missions he began all the way back with the Painters -- "Elaine" moves from observational poetics into a ruminatingly angry riff. Indeed, it's with tracks like this where Kozelek differentiates himself from everyone out there with a guitar and a permanently broken heart. His sadness is somehow as angry/funny/self-aware as it is sublime. Indeed, Kozelek's albums always appear as a chapter in the larger book of his music.
While Admiral Fell Promises was elemental, Among the Leaves delights in its moments of full-out instrumentation. The title track blossoms with strings as a gentle percussion draws us through. Other tracks like "Track Number 8" (which arrives as track number 11 on the record) feel like someone accidentally left the tape player on after the show. The track also features references to fallen colleagues Elliott Smith and Shannon Hoon. If it wasn't for the harmonies, you'd feel like you were the only one listening. This could be where the title comes from -- we are here among the leaves: among the things cast off, among the songs and notes and people dropped from above. Kozelek shifts song styles as fluidly as the tracks turn. "Not Much Rhymes with Everything's Awesome at All Times" feels like Kozelek trying out a motown track, while the lyrical relentlessness of "That Bird Has a Broken Wing" gets about as close to hip-hop as folk can get without making bros lounge around your WinAmp listening to The Gourds cover "Gin and Juice."
It's this shiftlessness that defines Among the Leaves as a much different project than Admiral Fell Promises or April. Both of those records launched themselves toward a certain texture--an atmospheric creation that left the album with cumulative effect. In this way, the record feels much more like Ghosts, though that record was much more of a band effort. Here, Kozelek feels like he gets in the way from time to time. Where things should let go, as on "King Fish," restraint prevails. The slo-core hum seems to echo the past.
More than anything else, though, this is a record about making a record or about being a singer. Kozelek is a brillant self-observer. On "Song for Richard Collopy," Kozelek memorializes a falled guitar tech through a literal description of phone calls and turning. "I Know It's Pathetic but that was the Greatest Night of My Life" is about falling in love after a show. While the metasongwriting can get old in the hands of another, Kozelek's infatuation with nostalgia keeps each song from wallowing down. Listening to a Kozelek record is to recognize that there's something in yourself which will forever be missing. Often, it appears as the past, because that's all you can point back to--what else do we have?