Among the Leaves
Sun Kil Moon
Caldo Verde Records.
SCQ Rating: 91%
As faultless as 2010’s Admiral Fell Promises was technically, it was that same adherence to method and minimalism that occasionally parched the recordings. One might argue self-exiled songwriter Mark Kozelek had a hunch in this regard, given that in a catalog of seventy-some-minute marathons, he chose to wrap up that 2010 effort within an hour. As a penultimate growers-album sitting atop a life’s work of growers, Admiral Fell Promises confirmed that Mark Kozelek doesn’t have a lot of readily comparable contemporaries: his scope is massive but understated, his songwriting is intensely personal and, most importantly, he gets away with it.
Sun Kil Moon’s latest addition, Among the Leaves, veers unexpectedly on impulses; its seventeen tracks, much like chapters ripped directly from Kozelek’s tour-diary, dive into matters close to the singer’s heart without the former record’s relaxed, classical-guitar flourishes. This relatively direct approach allows Kozelek to detail a myriad of lyrical topics in quick succession, and make no mistake: the man has a lot to discuss. Among the road-weary muses, there’s romance (“I Know It’s Pathetic But That Was the Greatest Night Of My Life”), disdain (“Sunshine In Chicago”), and full-on fatigue (“UK Blues”, “UK Blues 2”) – all of them delivered with Kozelek’s studious ear for melancholy and dry humor. He even pens a tribute to his favourite guitar-mender on the mystery-tinged “Song For Richard Collopy”.
With his temperament placed closer to the front of the mix – making the lyrics more clearly discernable – Kozelek risks alienating casual listeners over nearly eighty minutes of storytelling; a track spent complaining about the chores of songwriting (“Track Number 8”) should, in particular, draw ire. Yet longtime fans of Sun Kil Moon will instantly gravitate to Among the Leaves’ various snapshots and emotions. The potent immediacy employed by shorter compositions creates a surprisingly digestible whole, with folk songs “Not Much Rhymes With Everything’s Awesome At All Times” and “Red Poison” bridging lengthier new classics such as “Lonely Mountain” and “Young Love”. Like a rough-hewn tapestry spanning two or so years in a working-artist’s life, Among the Leaves occupies a messily satisfying place in Sun Kil Moon’s formidable career.