Those who keep up with Mark Kozelek know that his prodigious release schedule could sometimes rival Prince. In the last three years, he has released five albums and at least one EP. Fresh off the heels of the excellent Benji (2014) and somewhat disappointing Universal Themes (2015) , Kozelek has released yet another Sun Kil Moon album in 2016.
I consider him one of the better artist of his genre, like Mark Eitzel, his dedication to his craft comes at the expense of commercialization. That makes him part of a dying breed. That’s why I’m always looking out for his new material be it under his own name or one of his many projects like Sun Kil Mon (formerly The Red House Painters).
While Kozelek’s projects can sometimes sound alike, there are some subtle differences depending on what name its recorded under. For me, I separate his solo material from that of Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon based on melodies and arrangements. When recording under his own name, Kozelek’s music can be painfully sparse. His band projects tend to be more layered, conventional and have tighter melodic arrangements. That sound is almost like pop, but Kozelek’s material is far from the cat and mouse love songs that populate the Top 40. Even when he chose to record a Christmas album a few years ago, it was a rather grim sadcore record.
As a solo artist much of Kozelezks work is introspective and almost casual in its approach to story telling. With simple stripped down musical accompliment, Kozelek’s stories about his hometown, friends and family can be heartbreaking. While not always my favorite type of material, I could always look forward to more melodic music from any one of his band projects.
With the latest Sun Kil Moon project, Kozelek teamed up with the experimental British band Jesu. Jesu is primarily Justin Broadrick, who uses guitars and electronics to create organic sounding electronic music. In this case it works well with Kozelek’s stream of consciousness style of story telling. There are other players on the album from bands like Low, Slowdive and Modest Mouse, all of who add subtle nuances to Jesu/Sun Moon. You could almost call this a slow core super group, even though “Fragile” is the only song where you can hear clearly hear someone else along with Kozelek.
In fact, Jesu/Sun Kil Moon is composed of very simple stripped down electronic keyboard based rifts repeated over and over again behind the gruff starkness of Kozelek’s voice. The instruments have a warm analog sound, the kind of sound that suggests that the instruments are being played not looped digitally.
That combination actually sounds fuller than my description would suggest. Kozelek has managed to re-invent himself in a subtle manner while bring a fresh edge to his well worn singer songwriter formula.
There are moments on “Father’s Day” that sound like Boards of Canada or O.M.D. could be playing in the background. That song along with “America’s Most Wanted Mark Kozelek And John Dillinger” are the perhaps the closest to a tightly wound conventional song as you might find on Jesu/Sun Kil Moon.
Other songs follow a simple formula of Kozelek “rapping” over a backing band. It often produces beautiful and haunting results. Kozelek describes everyday things like the chores of life and watching the big fight on TV on “Beautiful You”. He even addresses his recent controversies through a reading of a fan letter. When this formula is combined with the angst of electric guitars, it can make for some cleverly written songs like “Good Morning My Love” where he imagine a lover reading a letter and stumbles over the meaning of “rekindle”. The question makes for an interesting and catchy chorus that has a sad beauty about it.
Jesu/Sun Kil Moon is not all ambient electronics. A few songs like the somewhat angry “Sally”, “Carondlet” and “A Song of Shadows” reminds one of the Old Ramon Red House Painters album or even vintage Hüsker Dü. Split evenly amoungst electric guitar driven and quasi ambient rhythms, Jesu/Sun Kil Moon is unique in that if follows a previous formula yet expands Kozelek’s musical vernacular. It was almost as if Broadrick had been playing with Kil Sun Moon or the Red House Painters all along in that both he and Kozelek sound so well together.