“Sunshine in Chicago really makes me sad/My band played here a lot in the 90s when we had/lots of female fans, and fuck they all were cute/Now I just sign posters for guys in tennis shoes.”
That line right there, referring to the nostalgic glory of Mark Kozelek’s time fronting 90’s slowcore pioneers Red House Painters, appears less than five minutes into the new Sun Kil Moon record, Among the Leaves. Less than five minutes, and I have already laughed twice. At least two separate times I have chuckled to myself, and there are still 15 songs to go. Ripley’s believe it or not, but Kozelek– the Sultan of Sorrow, the Sire of Sadness, the Duke of Depression—he who has time and time again reluctantly ushered me through the depths of his wilting acoustics and cloudy, all-consuming vocals, is now making me laugh and I don’t know how I feel about it.
Well, I guess I do know how I feel about it:
For lack of a more coherent assessment, not knowing how I feel about it actually IS how I feel about it. Once I can wrap my head around the far-off concept that Mark Kozelek’s saddening, slow-core flamenco could possibly bring me to laughter instead of tears, I find myself nodding my head in agreement, instead of placing it in my hands with empathy. I, like him, have spent a good deal of my time wallowing in self-pity. I have also spent a good deal of my time listening to people, like Kozelek, wallow in their own self-pity while they play guitars. It’s tiring, and Kozelek seems to be the latest to make the admission.
With Among the Leaves, Kozelek trades being disillusioned with the world in for being disillusioned with being disillusioned with the world. Let’s just say, the meta-ness of it all results in the most easy-to-swallow record Kozelek has ever released, under any name–a record that lets you skip around willfully and, most importantly, lets you have a little fun along the way. Make no mistake, Kozelek is still a grouch, but his grouchiness is one that invites you to be grumpy along with him, instead of just feeling sorry for him.
With 17 tracks, Kozelek proves that he in fact can write a song under the five-minute mark, can be bright and bereaved in equal measure, and can even have a little fun doing this whole music thing. While Kozelek sticks to his latest infatuation with spicy classical guitars and nimble plucks, first explored at length on 2010’s Admiral Fell Promises, lyrically he’s hysterically honest and painfully prosaic. A song about a late guitar tech named Richard Collopy is exactly that, with tuning pegs and neck settings described in great detail (“Song for Richard Collopy). A tune about the trials and tribulations of songwriting (“Track Number 8”) explicitly mentions Elliott Smith and Mark Linkous as tortured victims to the craft’s pitfalls, with a chorus so bitter it’s funny: “Well I wrote this one and I know it aint great/We’ll probably sequence it track number 8.” That song, by the way, is actually track number 11 — I’m also wearing tennis shoes right now.
Essential Tracks: “Sunshine in Chicago”, “Elaine”, “Among the Leaves”, and “Black Kite”