Mark Kozelek teams with Justin Broadrick to continue down a specific, unique lyrical path
In the late 1980’s, both Godflesh and Red House Painters were quietly releasing their first official recordings. One was an English progressive metal group and the other was a contemplative folk act deemed as “slowcore”. Not a single person back then could have guessed that the two minds behind those groups would join forces 26 years later to unveil a collaborative album that is void of any category-cornering. In the present, Godflesh’s Justin Broadrick now operates mainly under the moniker Jesu, and former Red House Painter Mark Kozelek is widely known for Sun Kil Moon, a project that has seen a very artistic and prolific stretch since 2003, but has only gotten considerable commercial presence since 2014’s Benji. When Pitchfork stamps your record with a 9.2, the game changes, and especially in today’s musical media climate. Microscopes hone in ever so closer, and the things that went without attention before (stage banter, interview snark) suddenly had much more consequential weight. In this case, Kozelek’s 2014 & 2015 would find publications focusing more on his public behavior than his artistic output, further confirming my ongoing assumption that he was the Kanye of the niche singer/songwriter-appreciating crowd. There was genius operating on a different level here, but his reaction to the everyday operation of the world was conflicting mightily with the majority. Some of his behavior on the live stage was jarring and rubbed the masses the wrong way. Inevitably, even major outlets with the biggest pull had their reservations with laying acclaim to his Benji follow-up, Universal Themes, seemingly to the point where immediate news would cause them to delete their original rating and resort to altering it based on how they would be perceived if they advocated such a figure.
“Then Pitchfork gave me a 6 that day…what took ’em so long?”
Jesu/Sun Kil Moon, which is Kozelek’s third collaborative album in the last four years where he exclusively takes on the writing of lyrics and leaves the musical orchestrations to another capable artist, is filled with a wide palette of scathing satire mocking those who have targeted him in recent years, and also continues down the deeply meditative path he’s paved since 2012’s Among the Leaves. It saw an early release on Kozelek’s Caldo Verdo Records site, but will officially see the light of the day this coming Friday, February 19th. He’s most literally living in the moment, detailing daily activities in profound fashion, but also meditating on the thought of death and of the well-being of those who mean the most to him. Two albums from 2013, Mark Kozelek & Desertshore, and Perils From The Sea (with Jimmy Lavalle of The Album Leaf), document an ongoing obsession with his family tree and of his blossoming romance with a woman named Caroline, whom we’ve become very acquainted with on the last several records. The seriousness of the relationship is all coming to a head with Jesu/Sun Kil Moon, which is made abundantly clear on “A Song Of Shadows”, where he loudly boasts “Without you my life would cave in. I’d be an empty old man curled up in a bed laying there aging. I’d have a girl sitting here next to me, shooting stupid photos of her stupid face out into the stupid world.” Kozelek is connected so deeply to someone at this point in his life, and to listen to him express that on an album this sonically rewarding is a focal point worthy of stepping back and taking notice.
Broadrick’s contributions must not be underestimated. He meets the otherworldy presence of Kozelek’s lyrics with a stunning variety of peaks and valleys for both the singer and the audience to trek across in wonder. The opening three tracks present a heavy thunder of Godflesh-like rock that pummel us over, but then a new act ushers in on “Last Night I Rocked The Room Like Elvis And Had Them Laughing Like Richard Pryor”, one of an almost unexpected dancelike-beat ambiance. There are a number of enormously moving moments across the record, finding two middle-aged, seasoned and understated masters working at the top of their game and seamlessly finding each other at the right time. I’m reluctant to predict that Jesu/Sun Kil Moon will come and go without the appropriate attention, but the feeling looms. Sometimes the greatest art is not given proper recognition until years, or even decades later. Hell, sometimes it’s never recognized at all. Whatever happens to this glorious 80-minute set of ten songs, I’m just fortunate to say that I was alive to listen to it and to appreciate it when it was released. It may indeed be the type of record that can only be hugely appreciated if you’ve come into it already invested in the established path Kozelek started with Among the Leaves. For the rest of you…I’m sorry.