So flippant and self-indulgent that it practically dares one to listen.
By now, you should know what to expect from a Sun Kil Moon album. Mark Kozelek has been mining the same territory since Among the Leaves, and each album since then has followed the same basic structure of oversharing and explicitly literal lyrics over a simple, fingerpicked arrangement. Quite frankly, it was a little surprising when this caused such a stir around the time Benji came out in 2014. Now, it seems as if Koz has ridden this particular style well beyond its logical endpoint with Common as Light and Love are Red Valleys of Blood. For good or ill, this album stretches Kozelek’s verbosity and off-the-cuff arrangements until they become something exhausting. It’s Koz at his most Koz, and one’s enjoyment of the album depends largely on their appreciation of this particular era of the man’s songwriting.
From listening to his more recent work (or reading his more recent press statements), one can easily assume that Mark Kozelek maintains something of a cynical edge. These pointed barbs have always been present–especially as his lyrics became more literal and autobiographical–but on albums like Benji, they were balanced out with a certain amount of self-reflection. That self-reflection is particularly absent on Common as Light, which finds Kozelek at his absolute crankiest. Given that the album consists of a lot of his reactions to world events from 2016, it’s hard not to see why. However, his reflections on the Orlando shootings, the Nice terrorist attacks, or the rise of Donald Trump (just to name a few) offer little in terms of actaul insight. His sentiments are nice, and it is heartening to hear a crowd cheer when he expresses support for gun control, but the songs he writes on these subjects are about as substantial as the platitudes offered on social media about the same subject. For a writer as skilled as Kozelek, he should be aiming higher than he does here.
What’s worse, Kozelek saves his more creative side for his tossed-off joke songs, and since Common as Light is a double album, there are more of these types of songs than most would really like to hear. “Vague Rock Song” is easily the worst of the bunch: a half-hearted, messy takedown of mainstream rock, it meanders for an agonizing seven minutes while never getting past the belabored point that Mark Kozelek doesn’t like modern rock music. Then there’s “Sarah Lawrence College Song” in which Koz thanks a crowd at the titular college for not being as terrible as he perceives some of his audiences to be. And the less said about “Seventies TV Show Theme Song” and its haphazard love letter to sitcom schlock, the better. On previous albums, this would merely be a one-song distraction. But the sheer scope of Common as Light forces the listener to grapple with this grating aspect of Kozelek’s personality in ways they really shouldn’t have to.
To an extent, one has to admire Kozelek’s recent work. It’s been fairly evident that he really doesn’t care what anyone thinks of his music, so long as he’s still allowed to keep putting out records. Still, admiration doesn’t require patronage, and Common as Light may just be a bridge too far for all but the most devoted fans of Kozelek’s work. While it has occasional bright spots, the album is so flippant and self-indulgent that it practically dares one to listen. Whether or not you take that dare is your decision, but I would advise proceeding with extreme caution.