Sun Kil Moon’s newest album follows in the same footsteps as their last few releases: long, winding, repetitive instrumental backdrops accompanying endless rambles on everyday life for frontman, Mark Kozelek. On previous albums, these lyrical tirades have ranged from stories about boxing matches and transgender bathrooms, to haunted hotels and being kicked out of bookstores. This incredibly unique style of songwriting was recently summed up perfectly by my friend as “podcast-rock.” Personally, while I have enjoyed Kozelek’s older releases with previous bands and projects, this newest string of releases have been some of my favourite albums over the last couple years, with every new release exciting me more than the last. There’s not usually much in the way of deeper meaning, or big metaphors, just the ramblings of a middle-aged cult hero over incredibly dense and technical instrumentals. This album in particular takes on its own gimmick, for lack of a better word, in that it was written entirely on airplanes during their November 2017 tour.
Kozelek’s last album, released under his own name earlier this year, had a large focus on guitar arrangements, usually leaving out all other instruments in favour of beautifully arranged harmonies guitar melodies that could go on for 8-12 minutes. However, this new album brings more of a jazz flavour, with a full band returning. These instrumentals are definitely some of the most unique arrangements Kozelek has ever fronted. For example, the song ‘Linda Blair’ has this dizzying guitar and piano phrase that repeats over and over until your head is spinning around. This compliments the title, as Linda Blair played the demented girl from The Exorcist. The reference doesn’t stop there however, with Kozelek mimicking her snarling growls in the song to describe the sound of a sick child that was seated near him on the airplane he was writing from. This is the perfect example of the comedy that is usually present in Kozelek’s music, as he is more than aware of the absurdity of his own style.
The opening song, and one of my favourite songs of the year, ‘This is Not Possible’, details Mark’s experience in Frankfurt, Germany, where every time he asked for something, he was met with the phrase “this is not possible.” This becomes a refrain in the song, with all the instrumentation stopping and the phrase being sung very discretely by the rest of the band in the back of the mix. While the album is full of hilarious moments, in true Kozelek fashion, there is an extremely hard-hitting emotional side to his lyricism as well. The title-track to the album tells a couple of stories, including Kozelek rushing home from tour to try and see his dying cat one last time, as well as a tour promoter telling him that a snickers bar was all she could afford for her dinner, with Kozelek never seeing her again after that. Similarly, he also tells of the last time he met Elliot Smith on the song ‘Candles’, wishing he would have hugged him goodbye that day, instead of presuming he would see him again soon. Later on in the album, Kozelek tells of his love for musician and author, David Cassidy, who recently passed away. In tribute to him, they cover the theme from The Partridge Family, in which David Cassidy starred.
While these heavy introspective emotional points are potent, and some of the more comedic moments translate perfectly. There seems to be a lot of what I can only call filler, plaguing this album, which is odd to say about an album that’s ninety minutes long. The songs ‘Candles’ and ‘Copenhagen’ for example, just seem to drag on, with none of the stories gripping my attention. He talks about being accused of flirting with someone, bicycles, not eating reindeer, how much he likes candles, a pretend conversation with a woman on the flight that he was on while writing the song (actually that was pretty funny), as well as detailing how he may need to start using Viagra. Sadly, these less-than-interesting moments outnumber a lot of the more enjoyable parts to this album.
While following in the same formula as his last couple of releases, this album is definitely unique in its own way, but personally, after multiple listens, I don’t feel it is as enjoyable as the last Sun Kil Moon record, or his self-titled album released earlier this year. While Kozelek’s stories don’t usually have much of a point to them, this record presents them in a way that feels quite jumbled, with a multitude of different emotions conflicting with each other within a single song. While shorter than some of my favourites by him, this definitely feels the longest, which isn’t an easy feat. While I do enjoy this album for the most part, I wouldn’t easily recommend it to people not already familiar with Kozelek’s latest output. Go listen to his last two records instead.
By Robert Cleaver-Redmond