Sun Kil Moon
Common as Light and Love are Red Valleys of Blood
On his recent streak of albums, Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek has steadily refined his inimitable”Kozelekian” style; one defined by delicate instrumentation, meandering song structures, and morbidly confessional lyrics in a sung-spoken delivery. If Kozelek’s music is fundamentally concerned with the beauty and tragedy of everyday life, then his latest album, Common as Light and Love are Red Valleys of Blood, is Sun Kil Moon’s most aggressively “Kozelekian” album yet. Across the record’s 130 (!!!) minutes, he recounts his daily experiences in detail so excruciating it borders on transcendent.
Tempting as it may be to write off Sun Kil Moon as “journal entries set to music,” Kozelek is highly deliberate in what he chooses to reveal, and why. Common as Light creates a kind of avante-garde Americana, in which Kozelek’s environment becomes a surrogate for his ideas about the world. In this, Common as Light feels like a musical approximation of a Great American Novel: long-winded, bogged down in detail, yet intoxicatingly audacious. For a collection of laid back folk music, the density of “did-that-just-happen” moments is staggering. This is, after all, an album whose most striking line involves a Hot Hot Heat CD being taken out of the shrink wrap. Kozelek’s intent isn’t always obvious, but he’s clearly trying to say something, and his success varies on a track-by-track basis.
The album is at its best when it deploys absurdity and sadness to equal measure, as on the surreal “Stranger Than Paradise,” in which Detective Koz spends a weekend at the Cecil Hotel in order to solve the disappearance of Elisa Lam by himself. For each of these delights, though, there are an equal number of tracks in which Kozelek indulges in half-hearted complaints about millennials and politics. His most blatant gaffe arrives on “Lone Star,” in which he demands an end to anti-trans bathroom laws while using the term “transgenders” repeatedly. Kozelek demonstrates a confounding ability to combine emotional intricacy with a reductive worldview, and this tension between his acute sense of empathy and his utter tone-deafness is often what makes the album so fascinating.
Kozelek is a deeply flawed person and, by design, your enjoyment of his music will depend on your tolerance for the man himself, a fact the album is keenly aware of. Kozelek has made no secret of his contentious relationship with his listeners, and with his renewed high profile, he’s proudly compiled a laundry list of nigh-unforgivable behaviour. Whether the contradictory nature of his personality comes off as abhorrent or intriguing is a matter of pure subjectivity.
Despite these pitfalls, there is still a sense that Common as Light and Love is a work of immense value, one whose divisiveness makes it even more compelling. Kozelek has finally succeeded in creating a record that makes itself likeable by refusing to care whether or not anyone likes it. His successes and failures are equally fascinating, and his total disregard for the outcome of his experiments is oddly commendable. For this reason, it’s hard to call the album quantifiably “good.” Really, it defies any conventional metric of critical evaluation. For better or worse, this record does absolutely deserve to be heard. Common as Light and Love is a singular album, one that justifies its existence by daring to exist at all.