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Friday, May 18, 2018

Mark Kozelek - Mark Kozelek Music Album Reviews

Mark Kozelek - Mark Kozelek Music Album Reviews
The songwriter’s latest great long ode to himself is at once bloated and transcendent, boring and mesmerizing.


“The Mark Kozelek Museum” appears on Mark Kozelek’s new album Mark Kozelek, his latest collection of songs as Yelp reviews. It is a ten-and-a-half minute inventory of Mark Kozelek heirlooms: crystals taken from a chandelier at Jim Morrison’s Florida State University house, the “innocent memory” of hearing “I just fucked my favorite lead singer” during a consensual tryst in the ’90s, a guitar solo in the style of Yes’ Steve Howe, an experiment with the melodic qualities of the word “diarrhea” and a backstage encounter with his “brother in music” Ariel Pink. “No one can accuse me or Ariel Pink of ever being boring,” he croons and “The Mark Kozelek Museum” is by turns psychedelically boring and mesmerizing. It’s about nothing and also somehow everything.

Mark Kozelek is nearly an hour and a half monument to nothingness. Can even the most diligent curators of the Mark Kozelek legacy justify its existence after five releases of nearly the same exact style in 2017 alone? As he reaches a prolificacy that would give Robert Pollard a stress ulcer, the challenge lies in discerning the incremental differences between one dispatch of songs about sandwiches and Scarface and boxing and another.

The most important thing to know about Mark Kozelek is that it really is truth in advertising—whereas all of his collaborations were essentially Kozelek doing his thing over exactly what you’d expect (distended doomgaze with Jesu, post-rock abstraction with Jim White and Ben Boye), here it’s just him and his latest new toy, looping devices that allow him to recreate the thump of his drum machines on album highlight “Live in Chicago” and stretch “diarrhea” into a ten-second rhythmic bed. It is kind of a pretty word when stripped of its meaning.

At least for now, it appears that he’s lost interest in the 8-bit synths and boom-bap that turned some of Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood into appointment listening, the closest thing we’ll ever hear to an actual Sun Kil Moon rap album. That record’s tenuous adjacence to hip-hop results in this self-titled album’s most self-mythologizing moment—Kozelek happens upon someone listening to Common as Light and Love on Spotify, who not only doesn’t recognize Kozelek, but Kozelek doesn’t recognize it himself. This whole delirious exchange is a result of Kozelek being in the grips of a sunstroke caused by him getting a little too careless, dancing in his backyard with his weed whacker (commemorated on “Weed Whacker,” naturally).

It has a lot of competition for this album’s moment of peak of absurdity—he quotes a stray line of 2Pac dialogue from Biggie & Tupac because he runs out of words following a riff about Al Gore’s thoughts on Donald Trump, a fan working at a bookstore jokes about them going to Panera Bread and another patron calls their bluff by saying there actually is one in San Francisco now. Kozelek ends up getting kicked out the store. It’s a long story itself and a longer story about how it fits perfectly into the gorgeous devotional “My Love for You Is Undying”—it takes about 13 minutes to tell it.

And yet, the idea that we’re supposed to be laughing at Kozelek underestimates the cagey brilliance that often accompanies these songs. On “Live in Chicago,” the specific resonance of playing his own song, the heartbreaking “Needles Disney World” in Orlando is soon overshadowed by the uncomfortable introduction of a song giving tribute to the Pulse nightclub victims a year after the fact. Most songwriters would struggle to find the proper metaphor or conceptual framework to honor the victims of gun violence and our desensitization to its regularity without sensationalizing it—Kozelek trusts common language over poetry, looking at the hearty succulents that serve as memorials and “the contrast of the beautiful Florida sun and its laws supporting guns.”

Who else is writing songs about the way a devastating sports outcome can affect the local economy? Kozelek claims to be too ignorant of football to comment on the Saints’ catastrophic playoff loss that happened about four months before this album’s release, but he’s able to rattle off a reminder of their contributions to food and music as consolation (specifically, “crawfish etouffee and Phil Anselmo and Lil Wayne”). Sure, the personification of the San Francisco fog on April’s ”Lost Verses” was heartbreakingly gorgeous, but saying it’s “like [how] Bon Scott’s soul hovers over Perth” and “like a bunch of grandmothers moving through Woolworth’s” is something no one else would even attempt.

About 75 minutes in, Kozelek introduces the penultimate song with a line from the Mark Kozelek Lyric Generator: “Eating a po’ boy at Mothers next to a photo of a young Riddick Bowe,” The photo inspires some soul-searching about the nature of his itinerant lifestyle, the resonance of A Confederacy of Dunces, and a treasured art deco lamp, which spins off riffs that are touching and tragicomic—his New Orleans home used to be decorated solely with that lamp and his mattress, and after years of lighting his songwriting, book-reading, and lovemaking, it ends up breaking due to an unnecessary window inspection. He’s bummed out and his girlfriend demands he do something with his day—which brings him right back to the first line and explains why he’s eating a po’ boy at Mothers next to a photo of a young Riddick Bowe—the structural integrity of “Young Riddick Bowe” is pretty fucking mind-blowing for a song that sounded made up on the spot.

Moments like these explain why Mark Kozelek backs up its creator’s boast of never being boring despite lacking anything in the way of traditional hooks or dynamics. I have absolutely no idea where any of these songs will be 20 seconds from now, which is how it holds my attention constantly, in contrast to the times I find myself zoning out during traditionally-structured three-minute songs that attempt to be memorable. It’s a quality that Benji had to an extreme degree, so why does it feel like “Young Riddick Bowe” will suffer the same fate as “Philadelphia Cop,” “Butch Lullaby,” “Needles Disney World” and the other songs from 2017 that seemed equally revelatory at the time and forgotten by the time he released his next project? As with any recent Mark Kozelek record, it’s easy to feel cheated here—he has a voice that maintains an actorly mastery of modulation and inflection, his observational genius and constantly evolving guitar playing inspired younger acts like Joyce Manor, Snail Mail and Phoebe Bridgers that could not be further removed from the stereotypical “guys in tennis shoes” he mocked only six years ago. Imagine if he could apply these gifts into these things called songs, or even if he downshifted production to two albums a year like in his 2012-2014 rejuvenation period.

But at this point, Kozelek clearly is someone who believes songwriting characteristics like verse/chorus alternation or cadence or repeated hooks are vestigial things that prevented him from the most direct and freeing form of communication—everything he releases now is a new Mark Kozelek album, but also his de facto Twitter feed, a bonus disc of stage banter, a beautifully-soundtracked podcast, an Instagram, a Yelp elite account. Despite Kozelek’s technophobic rep, Mark Kozelek is a thoroughly modern album, one doesn’t separate the art from the artist but collapses the two completely.

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