Sun Kil Moon - "Track Number 8" (Among the Leaves)
For 20 years now, Mark Kozelek has been making pensive, melancholy music under a number of guises, the most prominent being Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon. With the latter outfit, Kozelek has created an affecting alt-country formula, one that sprinkles dashes of twang-pop into batches of intimate, low-key balladry. At its best, Kozelek’s music has conveyed visceral emotional experience without excess cynicism or melodrama. While some of Kozelek’s past work (particularly with Red House Painters) may have leaned closer to the second vice than the first, Sun Kil Moon’s latest finds him headed in the other direction.
Among the Leaves is a whopping 17-track set, marked by free-flowing creativity and dashed-off elegance. Seldom does Kozelek strike a discordant note on the sparse, fingerpicked compositions strewn throughout. Set aside a handful of out-of-place cuts, such as the eerie minor rant “That Bird has a Broken Wing” and the sparse but ploddingly distorted electric guitar number “King Fish,” and what remains is almost invariably pretty music that leans more heavily on crisp American folk than the nasal, hem-and-haw country that gave the folk of Ghosts of the Great Highway some of its emotional tug.
Beginning with the charming tour diary entry “I Know It’s Pathetic But That Was the Greatest Night of My Life,” Kozelek continually delves into the well of (evidently autobiographical) wry, first-person narratives. “Sunshine in Chicago” buoys the ongoing nostalgic travel log with layered picked patterns and gentle harmonies behind Kozelek’s matter-of-fact voice. About the number that follows one need say little more than the title itself: “The Moderately Talented Yet Attractive Young Woman vs. the Exceptionally Talented Yet Not So Attractive Middle Aged Man.” Here as elsewhere, light humor keeps the delicate melodic guitar patterns from turning saccharine.
Sprawling but consistently clean and light, Among the Leaves is sprightlier than much of Kozelek’s previous work. In some ways that makes it sound less substantial – more like a compilation of B-sides and unreleased material than the tightly bound listening experience that makes for a proper album. Still, if Kozelek’s new songs are throwaways, they are often thrown-away jewels, and another testament to his continuing vitality.