Sun Kil Moon is mad as hell on Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood

Sun Kil MoonOn Benji, the lizard-tongued Mark Kozelek revived his Sun Kil Moon moniker and dusted off a box of memories, ranging from toe-curling tales of failed suicides to detailed sexual experiences. Attaching tragedy to everything and anything, Kozelek assembled intense folk tunes to bring his past to life. His new album, Common As Light And Love Are Red Valleys Of Blood, is a more dreary affair, squashing together anger and humour over a tiring 130 minutes. While there is definitely evidence of Kozelek’s wit and ability to tell stories, Common As Light… fails to find a clear focus.

Opener “God Bless Ohio” starts the record off brightly, as Kozelek reminisces about growing up in his home state, sighing with relief “I’m an old man now and I’m grateful I got this far” in the midst of steely guitars and breathy drums. In contrast, he bemoans his age on “Chili Lemon Peanuts”, a country bar song that slumps beside the smokey rock ‘n’ roll of Sparklehorse.

Veering away from the past, Kozelek offers his world-weary view on politics on “Lone Star”. Revealing his disdain for nostalgic record collectors and social media trawlers, Kozelek attempts to make a pertinent point about society, but manages only to indulge in the reductive theory that Donald Trump’s election was the product of the world’s obsession with social media (“When Donald Trump becomes president blame it on Facebook, Yelp and reality TV”). The music may sound angry and visceral — no more than you’d expect from Sun Kil Moon — but the lyrics are cliché.

Kozelek’s coarse brand of folk-rock snarls once more on “Philadelphia Cop” as he takes pop-shots at other artists, as he rips into Father John Misty (who he calls “Dr John Misty”), Jim James and Sufjan Stevens. The interlude kills the momentum of the track and, at this point, it’s hard to know exactly who or what the singer is angry at. Folk musicians? The wider population? Social media? Miscalculating the appropriate ratio of humour to anger, the record lacks a consistent argument or theme.

But there are interesting moments on the album. “The Highway Song” is a dark-sided car ride that passes through the electronic aggression of The Smashing Pumpkins circa Adore, detailing a callous mid-western horror story that retells the murder of an Eric Clapton impersonator. This is Sun Kil Moon’s stripped back, miserable storytelling that we’ve come to love, and exactly what the majority of the LP is sorely lacking. Likewise, “I Love Portugal”, “Bastille Day” and “Vague Rock Song” are well-composed avant-garde folk-rock songs, dashed with melancholy melodies and folk-punk riffs.

All the usual Kozelek traits are there: cynicism, brevity, despair, irony. But for all of Kozelek’s reflection on life, Common As Light… sounds like Benji’s mutant, dark-comedy spin-off, hell bent on revolution rather than musical evolution. The LP is callous and comedic in equal measure but pales in comparison to the earnest coherence and thematic economy of Benji. You cannot fault Mark Kozelek’s ability to tell stories, but his latest offering as Sun Kil Moon goes off on too many tangents, before finally falling asleep altogether.

Release: 17th February 2017, Caldo Verde Records

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