Recently Mark Kozelek, formerly the frontman of the band Red House Painters, released a statement detailing how his side-project-turned-front-project, Sun Kil Moon, would be releasing its seventh studio album, Universal Themes, in the coming summer.
The outfit will be returning after the release of their critically acclaimed sixth studio album, Benji (2014), and after releasing the album’s first single, ‘Possum’, it appears Kozelek will be revisiting the earnest, raw songwriting approach that helped define Benji as a modern masterpiece. However, since the release of their last album, Kozelek has made a name for himself in the world of music due to his violent outbursts and critique of fellow musicians. Late last year he interrupted a chatty audience in Lincoln, branding them ‘f***** hillbillies’ and threatened to walk if they didn’t ‘shut the f*** up’. Only three days later did Sun Kil Moon’s website start distributing ‘ALL YOU F*****’ HILLBILLIES SHUT THE F*** UP’ T-Shirts. This feat something perhaps only Kanye West would challenge. Furthermore, several weeks later, during his set at the Ottawa Folk Festival, War On Drugs began to be heard over his set. He instantly enquired: ‘Who the fuck is that?’ On being informed he said, ‘I hate that beer commercial lead-guitar s***’ and introduced his next song stating: ‘This next song is called ‘The War on Drugs Can Suck My Fucking Dick’.’ If this wasn’t enough to shock an audience, he furthered his abuse given to the band by actively writing, recording, and releasing a song titled ‘War On Drugs, Suck My C***’.
Yet, when taking into consideration the nature of Kozelek’s music, the artist’s violent and frankly shocking outbursts seem misplaced; Sun Kil Moon releases music that is, in it’s purest nature, deeply intimate and emotional. Kozelek’s lyrics are often completely biographical, wholly earnest in detailing tragic deaths within his family and friends. ‘Carissa’, taken from Benji, details the tragic death of Kozelek’s second cousin Carissa, creating a song that is utterly heartbreaking:
Carissa was 35
You don’t just raise two kids, and take out your trash and die
She was my second cousin, I didn’t know her well at all
But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t
Meant to find some poetry to make some sense of this, to find a deeper meaning
In this senseless tragedy, oh Carissa I’ll sing your name across every sea.
The song details the artist’s connection to his family member so clearly that there is no need for poetic language to supply a vague sense of beauty, in a way that many modern songs are produced. Kozelek has a unique lyricism, abandoning the metaphor and traditional imagery, instead writing openly and honestly, allowing the listener a rare insight into the artist’s real life. Musically, Sun Kil Moon’s songwriting is relatively simple; most of the songs incorporate a basic guitar line played on a classical guitar, accompanied by drumbeats and overlaying vocal melodies. In some respect, the simplicity of the music compliments the very honest direction of the artist’s lyrical substance. Sun Kil Moon, then, is a clear argument for less is more when it comes to creating music; so often modern musicians, with the aid of new technology, produce music that is simply busy and overcrowded with sound- Sun Kil Moon delivers a sparse texture which allows the listener to focus on the lyrical writing.
Will Kozelek return to writing intimate songs that could have been lifted straight out of his diary, or will the artist channel his recent anger issues to create an angry album? The latest single, Possum, details the death of a possum alongside the artist’s relationship with a female. Strange, perhaps, but a good omen for the new album nevertheless.