Sun Kil Moon Delivers on Aesthetic but Skimps on Substance in New Release

This Is My Dinner is a slog with very little reward for sticking it out till the end.

     Sun Kil Moon is a folk rock artist from San Francisco, California. Originating as a continuation of the defunct indie rock band, Red House Painters and sporting a long list of past members, Sun Kil Moon is now the primary moniker of Mark Kozelek, the group’s original lead singer. He’s amassed quite a discography over the past fifteen years, never reaching meaningful commercial success, but becoming a certified critical darling thanks to multiple excellent reviews. His latest record, Common as Light and Love are Red Rivers of Blood, was widely regarded as one of the best albums of 2017.

   His sound is quite unique and far from accessible. Over slow, smooth instrumentals, Kozelek rambles on, writing in a sort of stream of consciousness, touching on personal, political, and mental issues. He blurs the lines between music and spoken word poetry, rarely, if ever, breaking into choruses or hooks, and often boring more casual music listeners. On the other hand, if you listen closely, you’ll hear one of the better lyricists in modern music, writing fearlessly. Now, just a year after one of his best projects to date, Sun Kil Moon has returned with This is My Dinner, which is, in a word, disappointing.

   To start with the good, these instrumentals are very enjoyable. While mostly unassuming and often repetitive, “Linda Blair,” benefits tremendously from hectic, jazz guitar while the title track features more active drum work and a smooth melody on keys. The closer and best track on the album, “Chapter 87 of He,” is highlighted by excellent jazz sensibilities from every member of the band and features a jarring, chaotic passage in the bridge that makes the song what it is. The entire album is full of extremely listenable instrumentals, which saves the record, in many ways.

   On the vocal side, I will say that the album feels very heartfelt, particularly on “David Cassidy,” the shortest and best written song on the album, and the quick cover of “Come On Get Happy,” which follows. Even “Rock n’ Roll Singer,” which is, ostensibly, a comedy, Mark gives a good performance and the exaggerated, long notes, are absolutely hilarious.

   Two of the ten tracks come in over 13 minutes, adding to the runtime of nearly an hour. The better of the two is “Soap for Joyful Hands,” which is a short peak at what this record could’ve been. The music is simple, the story is simple, and yet every second colored with dark humor, an extended soliloquy on the value of life, and sharp anger, which is accented well by the subtle dynamics of the band.

   The other and longest of the two, “Candles,” exemplifies everything wrong with this album. While the stream of consciousness is a unique writing technique, it falls down on tracks like these, when it just has nothing to say. The story is boring, holding no metaphorical or emotional weight, the comedy is missing all the sharpness that makes Sun Kil Moon who he is, and I’m left, almost 14 minutes later, having gained nothing.

   This issue persists throughout the project as well. Tracks like the opener, “This Is Not Possible,” or “Copenhagen,” say absolutely nothing, and badly overstay their welcome. Where his earlier records strung listeners along, investing them in his mental state, only to deliver biting satire and a unique outlook, this album fails miserably and commits the fatal sin of being just plain boring. While the album had a ton of potential, especially considering it’s talented cast, it simply doesn’t deliver.

   This Is My Dinner is a slog with very little reward for sticking it out till the end.

4/10

HEAR THIS IS MY DINNER: https://open.spotify.com/album/1OCE83C2l4g7kRxTrkSfND

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Thoughts on the Tragic Tale of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land”

“This Land is Your Land,” may have had it’s teeth removed as a criticism of nationalism and a response to Berlin’s classic patriotic piece, but Woody Guthries spirit is that of complete devotion and reckless defense of one’s beliefs, and that spirit is inseparable from the history of music, regardless of political affiliation.

     In 2016, Budweiser announced that they would temporarily rebrand their flagship beer as “America,” with a can featuring the words “from the redwood forests, to the gulf stream waters, this land was made for you and me” on their label. They’re quoting one of the greatest songwriters to ever live, Woody Guthrie. Budweiser knows this, but what they, and most Americans, don’t know is that Guthrie would be rolling in his grave if he’d known about this usage of his writing. Why? To answer that question, we’ll need to get to know Woody Guthrie a bit better.

   Guthrie is one of the most infamous writers of all time, and the godfather of folk music. His very long list of famous fans includes Johnny Cash, Pete Seeger, Jerry Garcia, John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen, and most notably, Bob Dylan. He was a skinny, scruffy-haired man who rode trains from town to town brandishing a small, black guitar with the words “This Machine Kills Fascists,” emblazoned on the body. This was the early days of folk music, nearly a decade before the formation of classic groups like The Weavers, who were later ostracized after being accused of communist sympathies. For The Weavers, these accusations were false, but had they been made against Guthrie, they would’ve stuck.

   Woody wrote columns for a Communist magazine called The People’s World from the summer of 1939 through 1940 and became close friends with John Steinbeck, author of The Grapes of Wrath. He found a job for KFVD in California playing what was then known as “hillbilly music,” along with Maxine “Lefty Lou” Crissman on the radio. Late in 1939, however, after the outbreak of World War II and the Nonaggression Pact signed between Germany and the Soviet Union, American opinion became to shift heavily toward the patriotic, a trend that still reverberates today. Because of this, Guthrie’s Communist sympathies were seen as a liability by KFVD, who cut him loose soon after.

   Woody left California and landed in New York, sleeping on the couch of American activist and actor, Will Geer. It was here that he recorded his first LP, Dust Bowl Ballads, comprised of the protest songs he had played on the radio in California. While listening to the radio, Guthrie became annoyed by what he perceived to be an overplaying of Irving Berlin’s classic patriotic tune, “God Bless America.”

   The purpose of playing Berlin’s song was obvious. The goal was to inspire patriotism and a dedication to American ideals in response to the outbreak of the World War. This would come to be played even more often as the struggle went on and in the Cold War, the song would be used to encourage the dichotomy of America as a Christian nation as apposed to the “godless Communists” in the Soviet Union. Having been persecuted and driven across the country, away from his family still in California, for his political beliefs, Guthrie chose to double down. He did that through writing his own response to Irving Berlin in the form of his most infamous song, “This Land is Your Land.”

   To be clear, “This Land,” as it was originally titled, was not an anti-American song, far from it. It was, instead, a song meant to praise the beauties of the American land and criticize the  issues which Guthrie believed to be ruining this, namely private property laws and the US government’s disregard for the poor. There are two key verses, rarely, if ever, played today, which demonstrate this.

   “Was a high wall there that tried to stop me. A sign was painted said: Private Property, but on the back side it didn’t say nothing — This land was made for you and me.” This appears near the end of the song, which tells the story of Woody taking a long walk across the country, admiring the beauty of the land, only to have it interrupted by this wall. The final verse goes on to describe the other interruption to his walk.

   “One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple by the Relief Office I saw my people . As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if this land was made for you and me.” This verse originally ended, as did every other verse, with the line “God blessed America for me,” a more direct call to Berlin’s original track.

   Today, the song’s original protest roots have been all but lost. Guthrie passed away in 1967 at the age of 55 after suffering from Huntington’s Disease for many years, and living out the final years of his life in a psychiatric ward, having divorced his wife and left his family, including a young Arlo Guthrie, a few years prior. In 1961, he met Bob Dylan, who had privately fallen in love with Guthrie’s music and style and chosen to model his own career after Woody.

   Guthrie is one of the most iconic and controversial writers of all time, a devout Communist, and a staunch critic of the nationalism he saw developing in American media and discourse. Yet, he is often known to non-fans as the guy who wrote a patriotic folk tune that landed on the side of a Budweiser can. So, is Guthrie a failure? Absolutely not.

   While his name may not be in the mouths of everyday music fans, and his song may be misrepresented today, his style, his staunch commitment to his beliefs, and his decision to express those beliefs in his music live on today. Bob Dylan carried the torch and became a leading man in the cultural fight for civil rights, the rock and roll movement carried Guthrie’s torch to openly detest US action in Vietnam, and it still lives on in much of the politically charged rap music today.

   “This Land is Your Land,” may have had it’s teeth removed as a criticism of nationalism and a response to Berlin’s classic patriotic piece, but Woody Guthries spirit is that of complete devotion and reckless defense of one’s beliefs, and that spirit is inseparable from the history of music, regardless of political affiliation.

HEAR THIS LAND IS YOUR LANDhttps://open.spotify.com/track/7CNaYAdLyi86kofGafReiT

Highlights of My Vinyl Collection

I’ve been collecting vinyl for awhile now. A few years and a few hundred albums later, here’s five highlights from my collection!

5. Richard Edwards – Pity Party LP

R-11145459-1519071279-3636.jpeg     On first glance, this may not seem like much. It’s been kept in relatively great condition, the cover is minimalistic and interesting, and the lightning blue vinyl is striking. What makes it special, however, is it’s status. The record only sold about 500 copies, and hasn’t been reprinted since. It was produced as a collectors edition, and as a place holder between Edwards’ excellent solo debut, Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset, and his even better follow up, Verdugo.

   The album itself is a combination of tracks from the two aforementioned projects, each performed solo on an acoustic guitar with minimal production. Edwards has such a gorgeous voice and talent for commanding attention to stripped back performances. In most cases, the less barrier between him and the listener, the better. In the end, this is one of his best projects to date, and I only wish it was in full circulation for those who weren’t able to procure it on it’s first and only print.

4. Tool – Lateralus LP

tumblr_n55pmsbyt01rgojw1o1_500_600x   Turning from one of my favorite folk artists to may absolute favorite hard rock group of all time, my second choice has got to be my Lateralus by Tool. The design on the case is gorgeous enough, sporting the colorful spirals associated with the record’s theme, but the picture discs on the inside are even more impressive. They show the upper half of a human body, removing one layer for each side of the two discs. It’s a purely Tool design, and it sets the mood before the record has even played.

   Musically, what is there to say? It’s a Tool album. It’s fantastic. Lateralus is the band’s most technical work, mixing in complex mathematical elements and executing polyrhythms with a rare precision. Instrumentally, this album is a peak, especially for Justin Chancellor’s bass work, as he begins to find his footing with the group in a major way. Maynard’s vocals and lyrics are, of course, incredible, and overall, the album is just a pure master work.

3. Pink Floyd – Collection

  From progressive metal to pure progressive rock, we’ll turn to my personal choice for the greatest band of all time, Pink Floyd. My collection is missing only a few entries, namely Wish You Were Here and A Momentary Lapse of Reason, but the bulk of their massive discography sits comfortably near the front of my record box. The designs are breathtaking in their simplicity, one of my favorite qualities of Floyd’s album covers. Dark Side of the Moon and Atom Heart Mother in particular create so much meaning with basic covers.

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   When it comes to content, as I said, I consider Pink Floyd the greatest rock band of all time. Listening to their discography in order, you’ll hear them grow and breathe as a group with very few stumbles along the way. Their prime period, from Dark Side of the Moon in ’73 to The Wall in ’79, is nothing short of perfect. However, their earlier, more experimental work is fun and exciting and their later work is expansive and powerful. They’re simply the best to ever do it.

2. Kendrick Lamar – Autographed Damn. LP

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 8.42.39 AM.png   Though rap music doesn’t have nearly the tradition in the vinyl world that other genre’s do, I just can’t resist including this gem. The blood red vinyl references one of the best tracks on the album and Kendrick’s enigmatic face peaks out irresistibly as one flips through their stacks of records. Above all, however, the autograph elevates this LP above the rest of my Kendrick collection.

   Musically, DAMN. certainly isn’t my favorite album from Lamar’s discography. That being said, it’s still one of the best records of 2017 by a mile. The heavy trap influences and simple aesthetic is a notable difference from To Pimp a Butterfly’s jazzy, maximalist style. Kendrick’s flow is blistering, and his lyricism is second to none in modern hip-hop. He’s one of the greats, and it is a pleasure to be alive during his run.

1. Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s – Broadripple is Burning/Holy Cow SINGLE

R-745551-1518276605-9152.jpeg   This was my white wale, and last year, I finally caught it. The debut single for one of my favorite bands is the reason I started collecting vinyl in the first place and it was brutally hard to get my hands on. I eventually got my hands on it for less than $100, a score as far as I’m concerned, and it now sit’s proudly atop my collection. The cover is simple and hand-drawn, the disc is a basic black, and the packaging is fairly worn, but it still stands as my crown jewel.

   The lead track is beautiful, as one would expect from a band fronted by Richard Edwards. His voice is youthful and the instrumentation is full in a way that it wouldn’t be on later releases. Lyrically, it’s one of my favorite tracks of all time, as evidenced by the line from it’s second verse which rests permanently on my arm. The B-side, “Holy Cow,” is fun as well, sounding much more like the band’s later work, but nothing tops “Broadripple is Burning.” I’ve collected nearly 200 records at this point, but none of them have given me the feeling of excitement I got from this single.