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Austen Reviews Mark Kozelek by Mark Kozelek

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It’s not often I hear an album that inspires me to write a review – in fact, it’s not something that has happened since I started working at TND back in 2013. Sure, shouting out and showing some love for my favorite albums of the year is fun, but picking apart and critiquing pieces of music is generally yucky business to me. But I’ve been listening to this new Mark Kozelek album for a couple of weeks now and have a lot of thoughts that I’d like to get down on paper. I’ll try to arrange them coherently, but no promises.

Starting with the narrative of the album, it’s what I see as a bottle episode in the Kozelek saga. To quite an extent, Mark’s 2017 output was born out of the tumultuous political climate of the preceding year, not to mention the rash of celebrity deaths. Common as Light in particular had no shortage of drama despite it being the most radical expression of Mark’s diaristic songwriting process up to that point. There were even chapters that found Mark indulging in his fascination with true crime, going as far as investigating a mysterious death at a potentially haunted hotel. Whereas in this new self-titled album, the greatest external conflict Mark faces is either when he knocks over a glass in a restaurant, or when a bookstore cashier teases him about Panera Bread, both of which occur in the track “My Love for You Is Undying.” Yeah, it makes even Universal Themes sound Shakespearean. Mark Kozelek is truly the purest slice-of-life experience the man (and by extension, any other musician) has crafted yet.

That being said, the album contains a pretty much unprecedented amount of self-reflection, intertextuality, and meta-commentary/humor from the Koz. Sure, he has written songs about writing songs before – “Track Number 8” from Among the Leaves springs to mind, as does his joke about not spending much time writing lyrics in Common as Light’s “Seventies TV Show Theme Song.” But this level of self-awareness is even more pronounced and pervasive on Mark Kozelek. A few examples are when he acknowledges the polarized reactions to his stream-of-consciousness lyricism in “Undying,” when he runs out of words mid-verse during the ostensibly freestyled “Sublime,” and when he wonders if he's singing or talking during "Weed Whacker." There are also spots where Mark considers his artistic legacy, most notably on “The Mark Kozelek Museum,” whose poignant coda is a highlight. And in many ways “I Cried During Wall Street” is a song about closing an album. Early in the track, Mark sings about how much he dislikes goodbyes, so it’s a nice touch that the album's final lines instead amount to a “see ya soon." Sure, the song title almost reads as self-parody, but anyone who's not dead inside can relate to tearing up at a movie, maybe even one that makes you think, "THIS of all things is getting to me?!" Oh, and as you might’ve guessed, there are a lot of pop cultural references here. Most of the allusions are to boxing and '70s-'80s Hollywood cinema, though you’ll also be catching titles of books and TV shows, as well as names of fellow musicians like Cardi B and Ariel Pink. Referencing other works and artists isn’t new for Mark, but I believe he's set a new record for himself with this one.

photos via  markkozelek.com

photos via markkozelek.com

Now we can get into the album’s formal qualities, which are arguably even more interesting. In the context of Mark’s career, this album shares the most in common with 2010's Admiral Fell Promises in that they were both recorded almost entirely by Mark alone and that they’re mostly comprised of solo guitar and voice. As it happens, the only reason why AFP wasn’t released under his given name was because Mark had more confidence in the Sun Kil Moon moniker to shift units. That appears to have changed in the past eight years, but judging from his annual holiday letter, he was toying with the notion of releasing this new album as Sun Kil Moon, too. The fact that Mark ultimately decided not only to release it under his own name, but also give it an eponymous title, hints at themes of identity and self-exploration that I might’ve already touched on, but can't completely put into words.

There, Anthony, that’s how a real man digresses. Anyway, Mark Kozelek is a very different animal from Admiral Fell Promises. One may be forgiven for expecting this album to be a ramblier electric version of the latter after hearing the two lead singles, but about half of the album is primarily acoustic and the track "Weed Whacker" is bass-led. There’s also “Sublime,” which features drums from Steve Shelley and sounds like a cross between the titular band's brand of ska and the slowcore of Red House Painters. Of course, AFP had no percussion or instrumental collaborators, and beyond that, it was an album that married classical guitar music and folk songwriting in a rather novel way. As such, it required greater virtuosity on the nylon-string guitar than your average singer-songwriter project. I find the approach to composition on Mark Kozelek to be novel as well, but for essentially the opposite reason. With the exception of “The Mark Kozelek Museum” and the closing track, which do feature some intricate fingerpicking, the songs’ musical backdrops are formed by guitar loops, some of which sound rudimentary compared to Mark’s flashier playing on past releases. Think: Common as Light without the percussive and bassy backbone. That isn’t a bad thing in my opinion, as the resulting product has a mesmerizing effect similar to a good piece of ambient music.

So, I’d say in contrast to the virtuosity displayed on Admiral Fell Promises, the appeal of Mark Kozelek’s instrumentation comes down to its resonance and tonality. Really, I fucking envy the guitar tones Mark achieves throughout this album, particularly on the back-to-back tracks “Good Nostalgia” and “666 Post.” The former is so cavernous and gothic that the lead guitar sounds more medieval than modern, and it sounds as if it was recorded in the echo chamber of the Koz's psyche. Then there’s the latter, which is composed of harmonic sequences that evoke a cursed music box – fitting considering the song’s surreal narrative. It's also brilliant how the strumming in "The Banjo Song" emulates a clock pendulum's tick-tock. Certainly some of the album’s tonal appeal comes from Mark’s proficiency and inventiveness as a guitarist and producer, but much of it probably has to do with the non-studio recording environments he opted for this time. The vast majority of the album was captured with mobile recording gear in hotel rooms, which obviously have different acoustic properties and are less controlled than the professional studios and equipment Mark typically uses. Consequently, the mix is richer in reverb and overtones than any one of his albums since Down Colorful Hill.

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I can imagine this recording set-up being a blessing or a curse depending on one’s sensibilities. The album naturally isn't Mark's most polished effort – some of the soloing on “The Mark Kozelek Museum” peaks and occasionally a bit of incidental noise will find its way into a loop. However, if you prefer your music rough-and-ready (as I do), then those will be non-issues. You may also notice that the Koz's vocal performances are a bit more understated and restrained than usual, and I suspect that's because he wanted to stick to his "inside voice" out of courtesy to the hotels' other clients. In that respect, the recently released Live in Chicago makes for a perfect companion piece, finding Mark's crooning at its most forceful and dramatic. Kudos for that orchestral rendition of "The Black Butterfly" (seriously, Mark, please record more shit with Magik*Magik) ...I'm getting off track again. Not that off track though, as the song "Live in Chicago" actually details the events leading up to that concert.

My only gripe with Mark Kozelek is that my enjoyment drops off a little as the story winds down in New Orleans and the music is taken in a rootsier direction. I can at least acknowledge that it's an appropriate change in sonic palette and respect the versatility. That petty complaint aside, this is one of Mark's most revealing, life-affirming, and envelope-pushing releases to date. It's not without its blemishes, but an honest self-portrait shouldn't be. We've at last reached peak Koz with this album, though I wouldn't necessarily recommend it as an entry point to his art. That'd be like recommending someone to start watching Breaking Bad at the episode with the fly. But those caught up on the lore will hopefully find much to appreciate in this new chapter of the life and times of Mark Kozelek.

Mark Kozelek is out May 11 via Caldo Verde Records. It begins streaming next week on Sun Kil Moon's website.

Forever, Austen

It Came from Bandcamp: April 2016

theneedledrop2 Comments

ANOTHER INSTALLMENT OF IT CAME FROM BANDCAMP, BRINGING YOU THE STRANGEST IN SELF-UPLOADED MUSIC ON THE INTERNET!

1. Stinky Picnic - Minecraft
http://stinkypicnic.bandcamp.com/

2. RMF - Zebra Man
https://rmfworld.bandcamp.com/album/z...

3. Big Ball Bumpty - Funky Jammers: Vol. 8
https://honkcollective.bandcamp.com/a...

4. Larry Wish - Porous Obtainer of Loads (Truly Bald)
https://larrywish.bandcamp.com/album/...

5. Carrion eater - Darkness and Decay Hold Dominion Over All
https://carrioneaterindustrial.bandca...

6. Toyomu - Imagining the Life of Pablo
http://toyomu.bandcamp.com/

It Came from Bandcamp: March 2016

theneedledrop13 Comments

Welcome back to It Came from Bandcamp, the (not-so-)monthly horror show that finds us plumbing the depths and exploring the deep, dark recesses of the Bandcamp platform. After a bit of a hiatus, we're back to doing just that. It really doesn't feel as though three months have passed since the last one of these, probably because the trauma caused by the 30 or so releases I previously covered has been with me the entire time.

At any rate, we still want this to be a regular segment; Anthony has even expressed interest in making a video series based on it. If you'd enjoy something like that, let us know. But first, let's dive back into the cesspool:


[EDIT 3/25] Anthony's ICFB video segment is a go; here's the first episode:


We found this right after posting the holiday special. It could've been saved for this December, but I can't think of many things shittier than listening to a Xmas-themed black metal EP in mid-March.


Team Egg or Team Melon — you must take a side. Choose wisely, lest you end up on the wrong side of history along with all the other fuckheads who call Anthony an egg when he's clearly a melon.


You know how "Ultralight Beam" is such an incredible opener that you get stuck on it and can't move on to the rest of TLOP? I'm having a similar experience here with "Flavortown."


Not gonna lie: I found this one by searching for releases tagged with "AIDS." There was a time when the Internet helped me seek out good music, but this is my life now.


Please don't stop, DUMP. Shitcore will be less shitty without you.


 

Mr. Marx debunked dance YEARS AGO!!!! (Stale meme aside, this sounds like lobotomy-by-synth.)


Here's the hidden gem of this month's article. Fans of field recordings and noise might very well dig the mess of sounds r.nuuja captures in the pachinko parlor. Others might seriously suffer sensory overload and will hereon out have to excuse themselves from the room when Plinko comes on The Price Is Right.


The soundtrack for all your clown-themed nightmares to come.


This must be what Death Grips sounds like to people who don't like Death Grips.


Wow. That was just as magical of a trip as I remembered.  Thanks for joining me on this journey again. You deserve a quick apology for the obligatory Death Grips reference there at the last minute — my pay is docked if I don't meet quota. But come to think of it, isn't there something else on Bandcamp that's been making the rounds this past week?

The It Came from Bandcamp Holiday (Mostly Xmas) Special

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I've gotta tell you folks, I'm a bit disappointed. This new article of It Came from Bandcamp was supposed to represent holidays of all faiths, but it appears as though the only one people want to make a mockery of is Christmas. Hopefully in the future you all will be considerate of other denominations and make shitty music for Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and pagan solstice celebrations, as well. But for now I've managed to salvage this holiday special by scraping together 12 grating projects that are mostly Xmas-related. You can think of it as "The Twelve Days of It Came from Bandcamp," except I'm not doing this in the form of that fucking song. If you wanna listen to each thing one-by-one in the days following Xmas, it's your funeral.

Let's get on with it...


This EP gets me thinking that "Tryptophan" would be a decent death metal band name if it weren't for the drowsy connotation. Just imagine it in that gruesome lettering.


Here, the guy most notable for singing "White Christmas" is put over a bunch of hardcore hip hop instrumentals — y'know, just in case your holidays needed to be a touch more ironic.


Christmas just got a hell of a lot spoopier.


After learning what we have from tingledad, in only makes sense to set ablaze every Santa we encounter from now on. Can't be sure if they're skeletons in disguise. (The music really is shitty, by the way.)


I doubt that seasonal cheer is the only thing these guys are on.


Why aren't no wave Christmas festivals still a thing?


 

You were probably wondering when we were going to get into some holiday aesthetics. Wonder no more; DEEPSEA has got us covered.


"All your Christmas prayers. Answered."


Usually, Floral Shoppe parody remixes have a little bit of effort put into them. But this time someone just decided to add an incessant jingle bell loop to the album. BAM! Instant Xmas!


"Olaf is love, Olaf is life."


Recently I began being ostracized by my friends because my James Ferraro ringtones weren't festive enough. AGDR saved my social life.


Consumerism.


Alright, that's enough to give you the holiday blues already. I'll be back at the end of next month to plunge the depths of Bandcamp with you yet again. I'm of course gonna be around doing various things for the site until then, but I want to say that heading into my third year with TND, I'm very appreciative of any support you've given so far, even if it's just silently enjoying the content. So, beyond all the shit I offer you a merry Christmas, a happy New Year, and "Cocoa" three ways...