An album that is at times both beautiful and bullshit.
An album like Mark Kozelek’s self-titled record–one he released under his own name without any seasonal gimmicks or collaborators sharing the top billing–would normally be indicative of a move toward a more honest artistic expression. However, Kozelek’s modus operandi since 2012 has been to overshare, to write down and express every thought and action he has in the most plainspoken way possible. Where he runs into problems, though, is when he tries to feed both sides of himself through this rambling songwriting method: the sensitive artist and the winking smartass. When he does it right, we get albums like the Among the Leaves or the acclaimed Benji. When he doesn’t, we get the deliberately messy Common as Light and Love are Red Fields of Blood. Mark Kozelek straddles the line between the two extremes, which results in an album that is at times both beautiful and bullshit.
Say whatever one might about late-period Mark Kozelek, but the man certainly has a knack for arranging a composition, and the pieces on Mark Kozelek are among his best in this regard. Free from the constraints that the full-band setting that Sun Kil Moon records often place upon him, Kozelek creates austere, beautifully-layered acoustic compositions built around his folk-influenced, fingerpicked style. The album recreates the feeling of Kozelek’s most intimate shows where one just sits and listens to the man play guitar. The delicacy of these compositions can be overwhelming at times in the emotions that they conjure, such is the skill with which they were written and recorded. Were this an instrumental album, Mark Kozelek would stand as one of its creator’s finest moments.
Alas, this isn’t an instrumental record, and one’s tolerance for Mark Kozelek will likely depend on one’s tolerance for hearing Koz ramble about whatever happens to be on his mind. Sometimes this manifests itself into oddly touching moments, such as the opener “This is My Town,” a sort of love letter to Kozelek’s beloved San Francisco. But then you get “The Mark Kozelek Museum,” a 10-minute semi-rant about how he got his career started that takes a detour to complain about how he and Ariel Pink aren’t as famous as they would have been in the ‘70s–and that’s before he delivers a chorus that repeats the word “diarrhea.” This is the constant conundrum with Mark Kozelek nowadays–he’s paying heartfelt tribute to the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting one moment, then he’s complaining about breaking a lamp the next moment–but the strangeness of this dichotomy is only amplified by the delicate, drawing room feel of the album.
However, most fans have found a way to accept the dueling mindsets of Kozelek at this point, and for all its lyrical detours, Mark Kozelek is certainly a more aesthetically palatable record than some of the other, more deliberately alienating Sun Kil Moon records. Yet one can’t help but look at Mark Kozelek as something of a missed opportunity. This could have been something different and truly breathtaking from one of indie rock’s most distinct songwriting personalities, yet he couldn’t help himself but to keep doing the same schtick that he’s been doing for close to a decade now.