Sun Kil Moon or Mark Kozelek has earned a reputation as an emotionally driven storyteller. His music is normally built around some life experience and his commentary on it. More or less it’s a bit cheesy but as far as sad folk music goes –it’s unique and dampens the eyes rather easily. That said, his latest album, Common as Light is a continuation thereof. Kozelek builds upon his tales with another two hours worth of storytelling music.
Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood –that’s one hell of a long title and listening to the album is just as dense, but, for fans of Sun Kil Moon, this should be expected. Mark Kozelek has become rather well known for his long-winded songs, packed with story-telling lyrics. The artist behind Sun Kil Moon has been tearing things up for a few years but probably lured in the majority of his listeners with Benji; and after the fact carried on with similar style –reporting on life experiences with emotions that are honest if not crass at times.
That said, listening to Sun Kil Moon isn’t an easy endeavor –it’s actually kind of an investment. Kozelek is a habitual confessor and every tale adds more weight to your back. It’s painful to work through his music and, that said, listening to Common as Light is a labor of love. At 130 minutes, the album is burdensome enough, but consistently the listen is composed of strings –maybe a synth, and primarily Kozelek’s burned-out monotone inflection. It’s not enough.
Before any songs can even be discussed, let me just say –it really isn’t enough. Common as Light is slow and hypnotic. Kozelek’s cadence actually tends to wrap itself up in surrounding melodies more than it does stand out. The longer I listen, the less I want to pay attention. If Kozelek wants to make sense of his music, it’s time to stop venting.
Common as Light begins in a rather hopeful way. “God Bless Ohio” is a predictable track, it implements harp and vocals in a way that screams Benji –it’s familiar and Kozelek seems to be off to a strong start. Kozelek aims to paint a picture of Ohio, as he sees and saw it. His sentiments get wrapped up in news headlines and reminiscent lines. Kozelek begins, “The sadness lingers” but after so long goes on to say, “Domino’s Pizza brings me back to when I was younger.” It’s awkward but he’s trying to reminisce about the good. It’s a bipolar flip but it’s appropriate for such an odd vent.
“Chilli Lemon Peanuts” steps it up with something almost fresh. Kozelek is at his usual business but adds some deep synthy notes. It’s a pleasant change and up to this point, Common as Light seems promising. But I listened and I waited for the heartbreak and unfortunately, Kozelek yanks your chain unnecessarily for quite some time –something that becomes a hallmark issue for the album. “The front lawn’s been cut and the backyard has a fallen tree. Tomorrow my yard guy’s gonna get back there and cut it to pieces.” –What and why?
But eventually that heartbreak is delivered –to some extent. “A heavy feeling fell upon me, it hit me in a very real way, that we’ll live the rest of our lives together and that gives me so much happiness and comfort, but it also hit me harder than ever before that one day we’ll say goodbye for a final time.” For a moment it feels real, and you’re into it. Unfortunately, Kozelek kills it quickly with a discussion of oversized-guts.
As the album trudges on, melodies become familiar and the words begin to blur –it’s intense and difficult at periods. I found that I tended to tune in and out –it would be easier to sit and read the album’s lyrics than it is to listen. Attention begins to dwindle and suddenly “Lone Star” is playing –and then Mark Kozelek begins to go on about some politics.
“Rednecks, lighten up and amend transgender law.”
It’s a difficult moment and I won’t pretend to say that I can speak on what this line means to transgender people, but it does provoke a question of whether Sun Kil Moon would really influence those rednecks –probably not. And so I have to ask, why is Kozelek addressing rednecks anyways? Why the political song?
“May, 2016, Los Angeles” –Common as Light begins many verses in this way. Kozelek makes sure to detail the day and time. It makes for a more intimate chronicling. At the same time, the album leaves you yearning for a more consistent confessing and it doesn’t emerge.
That is to say, the lyrical content and the album as a whole fail to present that something worthwhile. Lyrically, Kozelek seems less involved. Furthermore, his constant trailing off is tiring. Meanwhile, the music itself is boring in comparison to the past. The emotion behind it seems gone, stripped away, empty or meaningless.
Perhaps Common as Light can be summarized with two lines of lyrics –“This is my vague rock song. Everybody’s gotta have one.” Unfortunately, Common as Light really seems like a cluster of vague rock songs and they’re difficult to chop through. It’s not easy to appropriately summarize a two-hour long album but frankly, Sun Kil Moon delivered a mind-numbing mix rather than his usual steady and long sentimental jams. Frankly, for the majority of listeners, you’d be better off returning to simpler times than venturing into Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood.