Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Album Review: Sun Kil Moon - Among The Leaves

Album Rating: A-
One of the few universally accepted musical atrocities is making an album where "every song sounds the same."  Music fans and critics have the misconception that every song is supposed to have a different "feeling," different instrumentation, is supposed to tell a different story, and is supposed to leave the listener in a different state of bliss.  They think that having an album where every song sounds the same or even similar is an insult to the minimal level of creativity it should take to create an album, it is an insult to all of the songwriters and musicians that actually made an album that was a "labor of love" instead of just a few days and a few sounds, and it is everything that is wrong with the cliched and forced music we hear on the radio and everything that is wrong with music in general.  They think that having an album where every song sounds similar makes for a disgusting and filthy album full of repetitive and uninspired sounds and songwriting.

Among The Leaves is proof that having an album where every song sounds the same isn't necessarily a bad thing.  And that is because Mark Kozelek has perfected a sound that definitely always bears repeating: his aggressive yet mundane acoustic instrumentation sounds like an elegant combination of Bob Dylan's softer songs, Tom Waits darkest songs and even his darkest moments, and even has the occasional unique freedom that Van Morrison's instrumentation presented us. His lyrics have the vivid imagery we saw from Built To Spill on There's Nothing Wrong With Love, the darkness and vulnerability we would see out of Conor Oberst on his self titled album, and the sarcasm and wit of what we would hear on one of My Morning Jacket's earlier recording. His vocals sound like a combination of Matt Berninger, Johnny Cash, and Isaac Brock.  Among The Leaves is an album where it is okay for every song to sound really similar because Kozelek has perfected a sound that the listener wants to hear over and over again, the album flows together beautifully, the lyrics on the album are absolutely fantastic, and each song gives us something new even if it sounds a little similar to the last track.

The flow on Among The Leaves is absolutely magical and this is one of the main reasons that it is perfectly fine for the album to be filled with songs that sound similar to each other.  The album has such a good flow that it sounds like you are listening to a 70 minute story instead of listening to 17 tracks that "kind of sound alike."  The flow on Among The Leaves makes it more of a brilliant novel than an actual album for me.  So if a world famous author uses some of the same descriptions and details over and over again would you really be that offended? No because you know that is the way that moment, character, city, or object was supposed to be described and you know that the description is essential to the rest of the story.  So when you begin to understand that Kozelek is more of a poetic author with a guitar  than a normal musician, you realize that it is not only "okay" for some of his music to sound the same but it is also essential to the quality and dignity of Among The Leaves.  If Kozelek didn't make music that sounded similar Among The Leaves would lose part of the narrative and flow that made it so intriguing.  If Kozelek strayed from the flow, sound, and songwriting that makes Among The Leaves such a beautiful experience, then it would be similar to an author starting a new novel in the middle of what was already his best book: it would be nonsensical, stubborn, and even offensive.

Not only is the flow and the general sound of Among The Leaves absolutely fantastic, but the album is also filled with spectacular tracks.  "I Know It's Pathetic But That Was The Greatest Night of My Life" is probably the best opening track Kozelek has ever done and its great storytelling and vivid imagery sets the tone for the rest of the album, "Sunshine in Chicago" is kind of like the perfect woman: witty, charming, beautiful and short, "Elaine" is a three part heartbreaking epic that has a gut wrenching gorgeousness that is hard to put into words, "Track 8" is Kozelek logical tirade about the "industry" that never seems bitter or even forced, "The Winery" has the best songwriting on the album, and "UK Blues" is one of the three best songs Kozelek has ever done.  Among The Leaves might be a free flowing novel, but that novel is filled with 17 quality chapters that will keep the listener captivated and wanting more.

On Among The Leaves, Mark Kozelek not only disproves the theory that an album with "songs that sound the same" cannot be great, but he also proves how good an artist can be when they have perfected an original, breathtaking, and free flowing style.  His sound is a seemless combination of just about every major folk musician of the past 40 or so years, yet his sound always sounds completely original and unique.  The  lyrics on Among The Leaves are sarcastic, witty, and simple, yet they never seem cliche or disingenuous.  Every song on Among The Leaves is powerfully consistent, yet never seems complacent in the least bit.  Among The Leaves is more than just a 70 minute epic that disproves any theory that an album filled with similar sounding songs cannot be considered a success, it is proof of the power of an artist knowing himself.  The truth is that the beauty of Among The Leaves isn't specifically found in any of its tracks or lyrics, but is really found in the simple fact that you end up believing that this is the poetic masterpiece that only Kozelek could make.  You always feel like Kozelek was meant to be the only person who could make this album, just like your favorite author is the only person who could write one of your favorite books.  Among The Leaves is an artist realizing his strengths, capabilities, perfecting his sound, and making an album that proves "unique repetitive beauty" is always better than pitiful attempts at experimentation.

1. I Know It's Pathetic but That Was the Greatest Night of My Life
2. Sunshine in Chicago
3. The Moderately Talented Yet Attractive Young Woman vs. the Exceptionally Talented Yet Not So Attractive Middle Aged Man
4. That Bird Has a Broken Wing
5. Elaine
6. The Winery
7. Young Love
8. Song for Richard Collopy
9. Among the Leaves
10. Red Poison
11. Track Number 8
12. Not Much Rhymes With Everything's Awesome at All Times
13. King Fish
14. Lonely Mountain
15. UK Blues
16. UK Blues 2
17. Black Kite

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