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Andy Whitman

Mark Kozelek/Red House Painters/Sun Kil Moon

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I try my best to keep up with music, but there's so much newly released material that inevitably some worthwhile artists and bands fall through the cracks. So one of my joys is going back and discovering a wonderful musician and songwriter with whom I'm not familiar, but who has a huge back catalogue of great material.

Mark Kozelek has been that discovery for me over the past couple of years. He's been making music for the past fifteen years, first as the leader of the SF slo-core group The Red House Painters, and more recently as a solo artist and as the leader of Sun Kil Moon, which features members from previous incarnations of Red Hill Painters and likeminded SF band American Music Club.

Kozelek has the high-pitched resonance of a slightly more tuneful Neil Young, plays winding guitar solos that recall the Godfather of Grunge in his Crazy Horse mode, and writes drop-dead gorgeous ruminations on loss and yearning and mortality that remind me of the suicidal geniuses Nick Drake and Elliot Smith. Don't come looking for feel-good anthems. But those who appreciate a melodic approach to melancholy will find much to like.

The Red House Painter albums are hit-and-mess. There are several gems on each album, but also lots of noodling self-indulgence -- thirteen-minute songs in which beautiful choruses and hooks are bludgeoned to death by being repeated for the last eight minutes of the song, for instance. There are some curious choices for covers, as well -- The Cars, Yes, Paul McCartney/Wings ("Silly Love Songs," which, although bizarre, greatly improves upon the original by moving into loud, atonal territory and avoiding the McCartney saccharine), AC/DC, and John Denver, for starters. But there are also originals of incredible power and beauty.

"Ghosts on the Great Highway," Kozelek's 2003 debut under the Sun Kil Moon moniker, gets it almost exactly right. He tones down the wankery, skips the covers, gets more focused in his songwriting, and delivers a ten-song song cycle that is breathtaking in its beauty and overpowering in its sense of loss. And this time the fourteen-minute song is one of the highlights, and "Duk Koo Kim," an ode to a South Korean boxer who lost his life in the ring, is by turns elegiac and solemn and swirling and panoramically gorgeous. I think the whole album is stunning, and I've probably played it more frequently than any other album over the past year or so.

Is anyone else familiar with this music? I'd love to hear your reactions.

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I'm not all that familiar with Red House Painters, though "Katy Song" is perhaps one of the best broken-hearted ballads of all time ("I know tomorrow you will be/Somewhere in London living with someone/You've got some kind of family there to turn to/And that's more than i could ever give you" - ouch!).

However, I totally agree about Sun Kil Moon. I picked up Ghosts Of The Great Highway on a whim one day, and was just floored (here's my review). Absolutely gorgeous album that's well worth checking out.

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Move over AC/DC, say hello Modest Mouse. Pitchfork has announced that Mark Kozelek will be doing a Modest Mouse cover album. Story here.

I like Mark Kozelek. I like what he did with AC/DC. I like Modest Mouse. I'm not sure what's not to like here.

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I've been really getting into Kozelek's work this year as well. I've picked up almost everything he's ever done, bar one Painters album, within the last few months. I agree that Sun Kil Moon album is the highlight of his career so far; the songwriting is more consistent, and that high Neil Young-like register he uses is really enjoyable. But the Roller Coaster album has some amazing tunes ('Strawberry Hill', 'Grace Cathedral Park', 'Katy Song', 'Mistress'), even if it could do with some trimming, Ocean Beach is a tight and enjoyable record, and the debut EP has the incredibly edgy 'Medicine Bottle', one of the most intense pieces I've ever heard. Kozelek's vocal is absolutely terrified. I also really enjoy the solo EP of AC/DC covers, and that's well worth hunting down too.

I've never heard Modest Mouse, but I'm not overly familiar with AC/DC either, and it sounds like it's a full length album this time around.

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I've never heard Modest Mouse, but I'm not overly familiar with AC/DC either, and it sounds like it's a full length album this time around.

Please pick up Moon and Antarctica by Modest Mouse. It's amazing to say the least. And yes, the new Kozelek album of Modest Mouse covers is a full length. I believe the link I posted earlier has the full track-list, which wouldn't mean anything to you anyway since you've never heard the Mouse.

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I downloaded Tiny Cities last night. While listening it, I had to make three comparisions.

1. It sounds like everything else Mark Kozelek has ever done. Which, IMO, means the only reason to buy it is to see what he does with songs written by Modest Mouse.

2. I'm very familiar with Modest Mouse's work, so it was a bit weird hearing them so radically reworked. However, they weren't reworked enough to make me forget I was listening to Modest Mouse tunes. Part of Modest Mouse's appeal is their diversity musically speaking. The genre-hop all-over the map. Mark Kozelek managed to make them all sound the same. Not surprisingly, the songs that seemed to work the best were the songs I was the least familiar with: "Four Fingered Fisherman" and "Space Travel is Boring". Maybe more surprising is how well "Ocean Breathes Salty" worked. What was angry and pessimistic with Modest Mouse sounded downright whistful and hopeful. That and "Grey Ice Water" are probably the hightlights of the album.

3. I really enjoyed his AC/DC covers. I think the reason I enjoyed them so much was that I was unfamiliar with the songs he chose. I had to remind myself that these were AC/DC songs. I didn't need to do that here.

Overall, I'm sort of unimpressed.

Grade: B-

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Incredibly, Ghosts of the Great Highway, which may very well get my vote for Album of the Oughties, or whatever decade we're in, went out of print. Thankfully, it's being reissued, this time with a 6-song EP that contains not one, but two covers of Leonard Bernstein's classic ballad "Somewhere" from West Side Story. Everybody knows the song, and it's hard to imagine that new life can be breathed into it. But Mark Kozelek does exactly that. Tom Waits did a revelatory cover on his 1975 album Blue Valentine, and Kozelek's versions are just as good. An already great album just got even better.

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For me, Mark Kozelek and Sun Kil Moon is an artist that won't go away. I never listened to Red House Painters, so all my exposure to the man and his music is through his later work. Inevitably I was unerwhelmed and unimpressed with the Sun Kil Moon but the slow working charms of his music has won me over and I find myself going back to his music over and over again.

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April is coming out in April. The first sample of it, "Moorestown," is pretty dang good.

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April is coming out in April. The first sample of it, "Moorestown," is pretty dang good.

Agreed. Can't wait to hear the full-length.

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"save me from my sickness and tell me

why are you like this"

I have always been amazed at Mark Kozelek's straight forwardness, his unwillingnes to hide. Even Mark Eitzel isn't as elegant.

I have been a Mark Kozelek fan since the Red House Painters early days. Grace Cathedral is one if my favorite places. Grace Cathedral park is across the street. I walked through it this evening.

I drove up to San Francisco today. Always hard for me to do without a little Kozelek. I look forward to his new work.

In related news: My drive today gave me a chance to give Adam Franklin's album Bolts of Melody a detailed listen. Adam was/is the frontman in Swervedriver. There is a beautiful,laconic song called Ramonesland that contains the line: "she plays the Red House Painters, and it sounds F***ing depressing".

I think he means it in the nicest way possible.

Edited by mumbleypeg

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I listened to one of Red House Painters self-titled album alot last week. (Am I wrong or do they have more than one S/T album?) It's the one that opens with "Grace Cathedral Park". I had purchased it about five years ago but had only listened to it every 4-6 months since. It had never really done much for me. But then all of a sudden it hit me with a sack of melencholic beauty. I couldn't get enough of it. One night last week I just kept hitting play everytime the album ended. To me, the slow burning sounds are the hints of quiet desperation yet its quite remarkable how Kozelek's voice is able to convey the right tinge of despair and optimism. While you never get the sense things are quite right, they're never hopelessly lost either.

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Yes, they have two s/t albums. The first -- the one you have -- is often called "Rollercoaster" by its fans. The second has been nicknamed "Bridge."

My reaction is almost identical to yours, Kyle; I'd ignored the album for years, maybe going back to only listen to "Katy Song" or "Take Me Out." Then I gave it another chance a few months ago and have been quietly obsessed with the band since. I think my favorite tracks are the two versions of "Mistress," but the album drips with a quiet dispair that not entirely removed from hope.

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At this point "Katy Song" and "Mistress" are my favorites. On "Mistress", I like how Kozelek turns the word "mistress" into a three syllable word: "Be my, be my mist-ER-ess". Until I actually paid attention to song titles I always thought he sang "by my mystery", which also works. However, "mistress" is a much better word and theme for the song.

I also went back and got out my Mark Kozelek album of AC/DC numbers What's Next to the Moon. It's an album I have listened to alot over the past few years. Without the balls-to-the-walls metal of AC/DC, you realize that the boys in AC/DC are kind of perverted. "Love at First Feel" and "Love Hungry Man"? Yikes, who doesn't like a song about what may or may not be pedophillia, with no care either way coming from the narrator:

i didn't know where you came from

and i didn't know your name

and if you were legal tender

well, i'd spent you just the same

i didn't know it could happen to me

love in the third degree

it was love at first feel

it was love at first feel

it was love at first feel, it was love at first feel

it was love at first feel

they told me it was disgusting

they told me it was a sin

every night at your front door

i'd smile when you let me in

now it's you and me baby

in your house all alone

better make things happen

before your mum and dad get home

And an ode to true love:

you're the one I waited for

i needed love more and more

i don't know what your name is

i don't know what your game is

i'm gonna take you tonight

animal appetite

i'm a love hungry man

i'm a love hungry man

yea i'm a love hungry man

i'm a love hungry man

i don't need a conversation

i just want sweet sensation

i tell you what i'm gonna do

i'll make a meal out of you

love hungry man

yea i'm a love hungry man

yea i'm a love hungry man

yea i'm a love hungry man

But darn it if Kozelek can't make it sound sentimental, romantic, and a downright ode to true love.

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Sun Kil Moon's April gets a "Masterpiece" tag in Paste's newest issue. Can. Not. Wait.

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I'm pretty excited too. In the last three months I've inexplicably gone from a "he's pretty good, I guess" to a lover of all things Mark Kozelek. There has been barely a day lately where I haven't listened to him in some incarnation.

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If you're interested, April is being streamed in its entirety on Sun Kil Moon's MySpace page.

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If you're interested, April is being streamed in its entirety on Sun Kil Moon's MySpace page.

I actually discovered the album stream this morning. My first impression was, "This is incredibly good." Second impression: "This could be one of my favorites, after it sinks in." Third impression: "This will be a classic, and many will consider it Kozelek's best album." As with all of his material, it will need time to sink in. But it still hits on an immediate level.

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I've only listened to it three times all the way thru, but "masterpiece" it ain't IMO. It's beautiful and haunting in spots, in the kind of way I'm sure most fans expected it to be, but I found about half of it to cross that line from sparse and haunting to dull and semi-grating. Unlit Hallway is a perfect example... ghostly, plodding verses-- the stuff that Kozelek does so well-- only to dip into this primitive spiritual chant/chorus that ends up being downright annoying. I found myself wanting to skip thru several other tracks as well. A decent effort so far, but pales next to Ghosts.

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I've only listened to it three times all the way thru, but "masterpiece" it ain't IMO. It's beautiful and haunting in spots, in the kind of way I'm sure most fans expected it to be, but I found about half of it to cross that line from sparse and haunting to dull and semi-grating. Unlit Hallway is a perfect example... ghostly, plodding verses-- the stuff that Kozelek does so well-- only to dip into this primitive spiritual chant/chorus that ends up being downright annoying. I found myself wanting to skip thru several other tracks as well. A decent effort so far, but pales next to Ghosts.

I guess this is where individual taste comes in

Edited by Jason Panella

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Based on two or three listens online, I think it's somewhere around the upper quartile of his work - around the same level as Rollercoaster, Ocean Beach and Ghosts, my three other favourites from his oeuvre.

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(I really don't like much of Songs for a Blue Guitar).

Really? I think it's my favorite thing he's done!

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I really love this album, but I keep trying to stop listening to it so that I won't get tired of it, but then I just start thinking about it more and end up putting it on again...

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I haven't heard everything yet, but as it stands here are my favorites.

1. RHP - S/T I

2. Kozelek - "What's Next to the Moon"

3. Sun Kil Moon - "Highway"

4. Kozelek - "Rock 'n' Roll Singer"

5. RHP - "Old Ramon"

6. Sun Kil Moon - "Tiny Cities"

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I really love this album, but I keep trying to stop listening to it so that I won't get tired of it, but then I just start thinking about it more and end up putting it on again...

I'm in the same boat

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