Sun Kil Moon “Among The Leaves” (Caldo Verde Records) by Eleni P. Austin
Not many people are familiar with Sun Kil Moon. The brainchild
Of Mark Kozelek, Sun Kil Moon rose from the ashes of his first band, Red House
Painters and included two members from that group, Anthony Koutsos and
Tim Mooney.
Named after the Lightweight Korean boxer, Sun Kil Moon, the band
has released four albums since 2003.
The latest, “Among The Leaves,” is a band effort in name only.
Kozelek handles the instrumentation on all but two songs.
Kozelek’s confessional style is similar to songwriters like Neil Young,
Nick Drake, Tim Buckley and Elliott Smith, and he’s a precursor to Bon Iver.
But unlike those artists, Mark Kozelek rarely uses metaphors or allegories to
tell his tales.
This bare-bones reportage gives “Among The Leaves” an intimate quality
that echoes Joni Mitchell’s seminal “Blue” album.
The album opens with the pensive “I Know It’s Pathetic But That Was The
Greatest Night of My Life.” Brief and delicate, the lyrics wryly detail a chance encounter
with a woman following a performance in Moscow.
Quite a few of the songs here deal with life on the road.
“U.K. Blues #1” and “U.K. Blues #2” paint a less than glamorous picture of the
touring musician. The former recounts the drudgery involved in traveling from town
to town with only his guitars for company. Tinkling sleigh bells accent Kozelek’s
slightly askew observations: “Denmark, Denmark, everybody’s white, everyone
rides bikes.”
The latter matches sprightly acoustic arpeggios and double-tracked vocals
with a melancholy recitation, “Had some laughs, signed autographs/
Grabbed my pitiful handful of cash.”
On “Sunshine in Chicago,” Kozelek juxtaposes solitary experience of a solo
Artist with the halcyon days touring with Red House Painters: “Sunshine in Chicago makes
me feel pretty sad, my band played here in the 90s when we had lots female fans and they were
all cute/ Now I just sign posters for guys in tennis shoes.”
“That Bird Has a Broken Wing” marries a rough-hewn melody, recalling Neil Young
in his Crazy Horse mode, and lyrics that frankly detail the fallout from life on the road.
Kozelek sheepishly explains how his amorous extracurricular activities have rendered
him unfaithful and slightly contagious.
Not all of the songs on “Among The Leaves” are autobiographical.
“Elaine” is a harrowing account of a former lover’s descent into drug addiction.
The melody is densely layered, opening up like one of those Russian Nesting Dolls at
each turn of the story. Happily by the song’s conclusion Elaine has successfully
completed rehab.
In an album rich with exquisite melodies, “Song for Richard Collopy”
stands out as a heartfelt tribute to the idiosyncratic guy who repaired Kozelek’s
guitars. Here his sparse guitar accompaniment shimmers and dances between
plaintive words of farewell to a friend.
Kozelek displays his acid wit on a couple of tracks: On “The Moderately
Talented Attractive Young Woman Vs. The Exceptionally Talented Yet Not So
Attractive Middle Aged Man,” a playful waltz-time melody belies his stinging
Commentary: “Your Simple songs, small creations always needing validation/
Your pouty face, great photos, without them baby, who would notice?”
Equally cutting is “Not Much Rhymes with Everything’s Awesome At
All Times.” Here, a bouncy tune cushions the harsh critique of a fellow
songwriter’s glib and shallow style: “You say you’re a writer, but what can
you say/When each night ends another perfect day?”
Kozelek provides the instrumentation here on all but two tracks.
The title track is a chugging shuffle featuring Michi Aceret on viola and Mike
Stevens on drums.
“Kingfish” couples a dirge-like tune, the roiling guitars reminiscent of Neil Young
and Crazy Horse, with matter-of-fact lyrics about fishing on California’s Carquinez
Strait and the joys of home-cooked Dungeness crab.
Other stand-out tracks include the mournful “Winery,” which name-checks
Sugar Ray Leonard, Julian Bream, Bobby Fisher and Robert Burns.
“Young Love” and “Track Number Eight” are both meditations on
the minutiae of a songwriter’s isolated existence.
“Among The Leaves” closes with the bleak and desolate “Black Kite.”
Like Joni Mitchell’s “Black Crow” and Nick Drake’s “Black Eyed Dog,” the
song is cloaked in darkness and weary resignation.
At 17 songs, the album is almost more than 75 minutes long.
Rather a big commitment in the instant gratification culture we live in.
But one is rewarded by repeated listening.
“Among The Leaves” is poignant and evocative, displaying a
Rare emotional intimacy that is rich and nuanced.