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Sun Kil Moon – Among The Leaves

Label: Caldo Verde Records ‎– CV018
Format: CD Country: US
Released: 2012
Genre: Folk Rock

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Many an older reader may remember a fairly successful 90’s American alt-Rock band called, Red House Painters, whose decade long life ended in 1998. After having problems with original record label 4AD they parted company but with their subsequent major labels many consolidations the bands final album “Old Ramon” got shelved until its eventual release in 2001, it had been originally recorded in 1998, because of these problems the band had slowly dissolved by its release. From the ashes of that band one Mark Kozelek, who among the dissolution of Red House Painters had already begun a solo career with first an EP “Rock ‘n’ Roll Singer” released in 2000 and two other albums the limited edition “White Christmas live” and studio album “What Next the Moon” (a reworking of AC/DC songs that were unrecognisable from the originals, a trait Mark would continue on future releases), formed in 2002, Sun Kil Moon with ex-Red House Painters members Jerry Vessel and Anthony Koutsos, the band also contains Geoff Stanfield (formerly of Black Lab) and sometimes collaborator, Tim Mooney of American Music Club, who sadly passed away in June 2012. These days though it seems that Sun Kil Moon is really just a vehicle for Mark Kozelek as he is the driving force behind the “band”.

Sun Kil Moon’s early material carried on from where Red House Painters left off but with the release of “Among The Leaves” and the previous album “Admiral Fell Promises” Mark Kozelek has taken the band into more Folky territory with both albums being acoustic, something you can hear brewing on earlier albums with these last two bringing the sound fully to the fore, this also coincides with them being released on Marks own Caldo Verde Records label. From the outset this album tells you what its all about, close miked, warm tones, lilting melodies with personal and interpersonal stories up front and this is no more evident than on the beautifully rolling “Sunshine In Chicago” with its gentle guitar picking and tinkling bells backing, its lyrics running a wry look at touring and how his fans have changed over the years “My band played here a lot in the nineties when we had/A lot of female fans, and fuck they all were cute/Now I just sign posters for guys in tennis shoes” these humorous overtones carry into a couple of ludicrously long song titles that could leave you thinking “what a pretentious …..” but the actual song content is far from prententious emo self loathing so you ask yourself is this all part of a deeper slyness a reverential serving up of what his critics want or a letting go with a, who gives a fuck attitude?

Because as a songwriter Mark Kozelek is renowned for lyrics on the melancholic side and though “Among The Leaves” may seem to be on the surface another melancholic outpouring or sad or just plain bitterness under that surface there seems to be some very wry references that ring home in a dark but challenging way, his seemingly dislike of touring “Sunshine In Chicago” “UK Blues”, being a songwriter “Track Number 8” bad romantic interludes “That Bird Has A Broken Wing” are all testament to this miserablist attitude but are balanced out with reflective and emotional numbers in “Young Love” “Among The Leaves” and “Song For Richard Collopy” (about the losing of his guitar maker friend) there is a tenderness to the songs throughout the album by someone who on the whole can be seen as world weary and a bit of whinger but really is just a realist penning songs of personal experience and reflective thoughts spanning a career of some 20 years, but instead of a nostalgic sepia tint to all this the lyrics have bite and resonance that is most perfectly portrayed on “Not Much Rhymes When Everything’s Awesome at all Times” which basically tells us that you have to suffer for your art or your art is empty, a theme displayed throughout many of the 17 songs here.

The overall sound is warm and inviting with nylon stringed guitar at the centre over which Mark’s slighty dark gravelly close miked vocals float, the backing music to the wordy songs runs very close to the line of being jaunty, its sparse with only guitar apparent much of the time but the playing is light to the touch and the melodies sing out from all angles. The material here is supposedly, from Mark himself, of a more impulsive nature to earlier albums and thus has courted criticism from other reviewers as being unfinished and “thrown together” but I personally don’t hear this, the general feel to the album is an immediate listen due the lovely melodies displayed throughout. There is though a varied amount of quality lyrical content here to delve into it on repeated listens which in time will offer up a deeper understanding of Mr Kozelek as a man and artist. If you’re in the mood for a slow burning slightly wry, world weary but realistic look upon the world of a touring singer songwriter then this is it. Over my few listens this album and Mark Kozelek has weaved its way into my consciousness painting pictures of an anti rock ‘n’ roll life brushed here with ironically vivid colours.

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