Sunday, October 17, 2010

Admiral Fell Promises - Sun Kil Moon (Autumn 2010)

Admiral Fell Promises

Sun Kil Moon
Caldo Verde Records.

SCQ Rating: 86%

“Have you heard this yet?” Heather asked suddenly, lifting a copy of Admiral Fell Promises from a pile on her bed. No, my girlfriend Emily replied, explaining how she and I had been saving it until autumn came around. The end of September had ushered the beginning of fall and, although the outside gardens were still wet with green, we decided to end our Sun Kil Moon fasting. Heather hadn’t heard it properly either, having tried it once in her fiancé’s noisy car and given up. Now that fiancé is a husband, Heather’s his wife, and the soft finger-plucked notes of ‘Alesund’ dance into a room threatened by abandonment. Wall decorations that have marked her territory from student flops to this parental loft now lie on the bed, while cherished CDs have been pillaged from their shelves. Endless pamphlets for wedding locations, wedding dresses, wedding caterers and honeymoon resorts fold crisply into the trash.

Emily and I sat against Heather’s closed door, exhausted from a day of Boston shopping and Indian cuisine. No sooner had I arrived at the house when I developed a fever, something that made Mark Kozelek’s stripped arrangements more isolating but no less soothing. Certain tracks spoke out more immediately, like the sweetly melodic title track that harkens back to April’s more contemplative material. That’s the problem with the present, though; trying to determine the worth of a current moment seems impossible next to the power of a later memory. Admiral Fell Promises works no differently, expelling the attributes that would catch most listeners off-guard in favour of slow-burning melodies that dig under our skins over time.

Drinking tea on the floor and hopelessly dazed, I was still vulnerable to Kozelek’s skeletal atmospheres developed over lonely nylon strings. ‘Half Moon Bay’ speaks to New Hampshire’s blanketed night, its almost bluesy refrain carried by a haunted vocal performance. The bleak ‘Australian Winter’ burrows further toward autumn’s frozen end, begging for a fireside to warm our faces from all Kozelek’s old-fashioned inhospitality. Although technically astounding in their naked skill, these cold-hearted compositions can’t be salvaged by Kozelek’s warm timbre alone, his guitar’s darkness enveloping us no differently than the mouth of night swallowing this farmhouse. To quell the burden, the majority of these lengthy tracks drift off into incidental classical figures that provide a lighthearted bent to ‘The Leaning Tree’ and deepen the emotional complexity of ‘Third and Seneca’. And occasionally, as on ‘Church Of the Pines’, Kozelek breaks into bouts of experimentation, seemingly testing passages off of each other to see how they gel. Naturally, they do.

An hour of such narrow scope can understandably blur upon early listens and the calm beauty of ‘Bay Of Skulls’ closed the disc while we conversed unaware. Heather was due to take her luggage to the new apartment downtown but ended up staying late to watch bad movies, snack, and take comfort in the cozy paralysis a farmhouse affords after dark. Most of Admiral Fell Promises’ virtually endless subtleties were lost on us then, leaving only gentle progressions that scored tired conversations, but I’m swimming in those details now. Maybe, like all of Sun Kil Moon’s best work, that’s what substitutes all of Admiral Fell Promises’ empty space: memories. Those occasional waves of reflection in which you realize the implications of what was once an ironed-flat, cause-and-effect present and the crises, the ruts, and rites of passage you now admit as your past. Wistful for whatever reasons, maybe that’s the push Kozelek’s music gives us: to feel those moments we lost to the present.

“I’m really glad we waited until fall to hear that,” I told Emily the next morning, but I didn’t know the half of it. Rarely has a record stirred my interest in guitar tones so, and those obsessive codas have followed my park-side walks to work ever since our New England trip. Reminiscent of the four-track EP that April came bundled with, Admiral Fell Promises showcases Kozelek surveying the space of his own charisma, subdued but undeniably hypnotic. If memories are to assist us beyond the anecdotal excuses of this record review, let them highlight the refinement we’ve undergone as individuals since. And for Mark Kozelek, let Admiral Fell Promises stand as his sophisticated peak, a masterpiece of his former self.

Sun Kil Moon - Ålesund by pygmylion

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