[Photo courtesy of Sun Kil Moon]
[Disclaimer: This piece presents the views of the author, and does not reflect the views of KXSU as whole.]
Sun Kil Moon’s new Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood starts as a beautiful ode to singer Mark Kozelek’s hometown, with a complex call-and-response harp-like guitar melody that can be heard throughout the rest of the album. The record opens with “God Bless Ohio,” where Mark sets things up for success, showcasing a slightly more modern sound than his most popular work, Benji. The songwriting material upon the beginning of the record stays consistent with his previous work, filled with nostalgia and news headlines, and that call-and-response guitar piece really is beautiful.
The album progresses to include a more beat-centric sound, and Mark teases us by giving us short little snippets of the beautiful guitar that he plays so well. By the second song on the record, “Chili Lemon Peanuts,” I’m absorbed into his style of storytelling. But, Mark shows his ego a bit for the first time, reading a passage from The Bible in an ironic sort of way, but with his voice one octave down and echoing behind him, as if it makes it less pretentious. But ugh, that guitar is just so beautiful.
By the album’s third track, though, “Philadelphia Cop,” it appears that the previous little slip of Mark’s ego is actually who he really is, and it only took three songs to get there. By this point, Mark begins discussing all of societies downfalls, as if he is above it all. He talks about shootings, gentrification, and women’s rights in the workforce. But not in an informative way. Oh no, that’s not the way of Mark. He’s the victim. Mark speaks as if he knows all, imploring all feminist men to “give a woman your job or shut up, you queen b****,” as if he hasn’t had his own problems in the past. He continues to show his superiority throughout the album, explaining how he doesn’t care about “your stupid rating system.” He thinks “you reporters are scum,” singing and repeating, “I ain’t no one’s puppet” about himself before stopping all the backtrack music and imitating a music journalist in a sexist and rude sort of way. He ends his little statement with, “Let me ask you: do you own your own story? / Being pimped the f*** out like a paid for ho.”
After that, I was enraged, and Mark lost what little respect I had left for him. And it’s a shame, too, because there really are some beautiful moments in the subsequent songs. His style of playing has evolved so nicely, as he sprinkled some of that lovely guitar in with more electronic beats, and his way of speaking brings a unique way of turning small observations into song.
But as I listen more, it’s clear that Mark can’t hide his ego under all of that nice guitar, and he also can’t stop victimizing himself. On “Lone Star,” the fifth track on the album, Mark sings about being banned from a Texas venue because the students in attendance think that he’s sexist. He counters with a statement consistent with his massive ego: “Well guess what? I still love you, Texas.” He insults the people who had the audacity to call him out for his actions, calling the Texans “hillbilly boys,” and commenting on how they are, again, below him because he believes in transgender rights, and I guess that, because they are from Texas, they must therefore all not believe in transgender rights. He basically uses this song to address and bury his own faults in the assumed faults of another. Because, y’know, Mark is better than you.
On “Window Sash Weights,” Mark states, “If a college girl is nice to me and I speak to her, it might be misconstrued, and I won’t be pardoned.” He goes on to say, “A nearby blogger will purposely read too deeply into it, go home, tug on his d***, and wait for the hits.” Guess what, Mark: if you feel this unending need to defend yourself and your past actions, and if so many people view you as this threatening, sexist man, then you may in fact be a threatening, sexist man. You are endlessly the victim for everything you’ve done. You call a woman a “b****” onstage, and you tell her she “probably wants to have my babies, get in line” in front of a packed audience. But no, you are the victim, and you also feel the need to tell that to us about a million times. Poor Mark has to deal with the repercussions of his actions, but instead of learning from them and maybe apologizing, he just feels the need to command his listeners feel bad for him instead.
The rest of Common as Light is more of the same: Mark continues to brandish his massive ego by reading fan letters, victimizing himself more, and telling us more about the good things he has done. He played for a college campus; please pat him on the back! He did something nice for his girlfriend; please pat him on the back! He talks about gentrification and how he now has to deal with a shop on his block being turned into a juice store, but neglects to mention how others are forced out of their homes. But please, pat Mark on the back.
I started this review optimistic about Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood. I knew Mark had some issues in the past, but I was willing to let his new music speak for itself. I’m an advocate of separating the music from the person for the most part, so I wasn’t going to let a past action ruin the new album for me. Upon first listen, it sounded so pretty with that nice guitar, and Mark really does have a way of speaking that can really narrate a scene so effectively. But as it progresses, I’m reminded continuously reminded of his ego and his past actions. He’s not sorry he insulted a woman in front of his entire audience. No, no: he’s upset he was criticized for it. He won’t apologize for it, or even avoid mentioning it; instead he’s going to shame all of those who want to call him out for it, reporters and Texans alike, and brandishes his ego in countless other ways. Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood proves that Mark will continue to be the kind of person he is. He’ll keep thinking that he can get away with it all because of his nice guitar melodies. So please, pat Mark on the back.
You can stream the album here.
JULIA OLSON | Above it all | KXSU Head Reporter