Sun Kil Moon Returns With Much Stronger LP

I Also Want to Die in New Orleans is neither the most accessible, nor the most daring project thus far in 2019, but it certainly a welcome addition to the Sun Kil Moon catalogue.

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, This is My Dinner, held a few interesting ideas, but was ultimately bloated and often boring.

The album opens with “Coyote,” and immediately we have a strong improvement from the previous record. The instrumentation is sparse and only loosely conforms to any type of rhythm, and it’s aided by a reedy, humming woodwind that brings the moody undertones to a head. Kozelek’s vocals are also fairly impressive, especially the doubled harmonies on what could vaguely be called a chorus. Lyrically, this isn’t the most impressive cut on the record, but there’s quite a bit of solid comedy and it’s certainly a step up from the at times unbearably boring writing on This is My Dinner.

“A Day in America,” follows, the second longest and easily one of the strongest tracks on the record. While the instrumental and production are relatively simple, the lyrics bring this song to a new level. Using his trademark, stream of consciousness style, Mark rambles descriptively through his experiences on the day he learned of the recent Parkland Massacre in Florida. True to form, he rarely stays on topic, devoting large amounts of time to a petty argument with his band, but this works to his advantage here as he says more by rambling off topic acting as a commentary on the tendency of American’s to brush these events aside. It’s a simply brilliant piece of storytelling.

“L-48,” is the third and shortest track, an yet, in many ways, it’s the least focussed. The lyrics seem to have very little to say, and while they may perk the ears of long time Sun Kil Moon fans, they leave a casual listener like myself a bit bored. The instrumental on the other hand, is quite fascinating. Extremely simplistic in presentation, the track presents a multitude of concise melodies with strong focus. The drumming peaks in and out, and the track often feels just one beat from completely falling apart, teetering on the edge of incoherence, and yet consistently intriguing. It doesn’t make up for the weaker lyrics, but it’s an enjoyable piece nonetheless.

“Cows,” on the other hand, returns the record to a fuller sound, largely to its detriment. The melody is much less clear on this track and the drumming is somewhat boring. Lyrically, however, “Cows,” proves impressively capable of holding a listeners attention for the substantial runtime. Using cows as an anchor point for both his rural youth and his philosophical readings, Mark gives us an interesting peak into his psyche and even smuggles in a few profound ideas.

“I’m Not Laughing at You,” kicks off the hefty second half of the LP. It benefits, musically, from the addition of a strong horn section and some excellently spacey production. This is also one of the more interesting storylines as Mark uses a tale of misunderstandings and embarrassing moments while on travels in foreign countries to examine America’s status among the rest of the world, mocking our excess and ignorance, while lauding the many great contributions the US has made, particularly in the realm of songwriting.

“Couch Potato,” is yet another strong entry and maybe the most fun cut on the tracklist. The looping guitar and energetic rock beat is reminiscent of a classic 1970’s pop-rock, but lyrically, it’s quite biting. In it, Sun Kil Moon lambasts the left leaning majority in the US for their silence and lack of concern for immigrants under previous presidents. He goes on to predict a reelection of Donald Trump, should the majority of voters continue to accept the status quo as it is.

“Bay of Kotor,” closes the album with a daunting 20 minutes all to itself, and it uses its time well. Easily the strongest track on the album, Sun Kil Moon tells a sprawling story of a rather tame but interesting night in San Francisco. He touches on his love for animals, his inability to connect with women who hit on him, and a series of unique interactions with a hotel waitress from the area. 

All said, this is a large step up for Sun Kil Moon. The instrumentation has quite a bit of character and the lyrics, though at times meandering, are often fascinating and creative.

I Also Want to Die in New Orleans is neither the most accessible, nor the most daring project thus far in 2019, but it certainly a welcome addition to the Sun Kil Moon catalogue.

6/10

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

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Hozier Is Back With a Perfect Sophomore Album

Wasteland, Baby! Is an infectious passion project from one of the brightest minds in music today which slowly sucks you in further and further in with each listen.

Hozier is an indie/blues rock artist from Bray, Ireland. He debuted in 2013 with the Take Me to Church EP, the title track of which is still his most successful song to date, certified eight times platinum in the US alone. After the massive success, he went on to drop the From Eden EP, which was equally well received and left expectations sky high for an upcoming LP. His 2014 self-titled album debut certainly didn’t disappoint, featuring represses of much of the previous two releases while adding a few fantastic new cuts. The album went double platinum in the US and six times platinum in his home country of Ireland, spawning a large tour and and netting multiple awards. Fans were left clamoring for more but were largely met with silence until the release of the Nina Cried Power EP in late 2018. Now, just a few months later, we finally have a sophomore effort from the indie rock troubadour and it absolutely does not disappoint.

Wasteland, Baby! May be a bit jarring to fans of the debut, as was the preceding EP, as Hozier has returned with a wide array of new styles and effects, and a renewed focus on the instrumental side of his music which just didn’t exist before. This is made obvious in the baselines of the very opening track, “Nina Cried Power,” in addition to “No Plan,” a few cuts later. The bass guitar works extremely hard across this record, constantly moving with purpose and played with skill.

This is also extremely noticeable in the massive instrumental pallet of this album. The violins on “As It Was” lend a gravitas to an already fantastic, folk-inspired song, while the organ  work on “Be,” and across the majority of the latter half of the record is a wonderful touch. While the first album seemed a bit more consistent in terms of tone, I much prefer the expansive pallet and exciting nature of Wasteland, Baby!

Without a doubt, however, the most noticeable change is a massive focus on percussion on nearly every track. While a song like “Movement,” or “Sunlight,” is perhaps a bit more noticeable, it’s clear that Hozier put serious time and effort into each piece of the percussion on this album and it absolutely pays off. Never once do we hear a nondescript rock beat but in stead a minimalistic but effective collections of dynamic sounds keeping the rhythm.

All this being said, the best qualities of the album are still, by far, the elements we’ve come to expect and appreciate from Hozier’s work. The guitar work is wonderful. From the rolling, picked acoustic of “To Noise Making,” to the earworm riffs of tracks like “Talk,” and “Dinner & Diatribes.” His guitar is at the center of nearly every track and that’s never a bad thing.

The lyrics on this album are nothing short of poetry. “Almost,” is a wonderfully fun tribute to love and music using several lyrics from timeless the jazz standards of acts like Sinatra and Jelly Roll Morton. “Shrike,” on the other hand is breathtaking ode to a love lost using nature as a perfect metaphor. It’s also the best track on the album and one of the best tracks I’ve heard in a very long time. The closer and title track uses powerful apocalyptic imagery to describe the act of falling in love in yet another stroke of brilliance. Genuinely every track on this album stems from a wonderful lyrical idea and executed nearly perfectly.

The absolute, undeniable highlight on this album, however, comes in Hozier’s vocals. Whether it’s the Motown and soul inspired sound of a track like “Nobody,” or the booming, blues rock of “Would That I,” or any of the other 12 cuts on this album, Hozier’s voice is a constant presence. It’s soft and contemplative when it needs to be, and smoothly powerful at the perfect moments, and it is, overall, an absolute Iron Man effort from an incredible talent.

As this album wraps up, I’m struck by what a fantastic experience it was. The pacing is near perfect, never leaving me bored over a nearly hour long runtime, every song feels essential and unique, and every risk taken on the album pays off in full. Even the singles I didn’t love in the lead up have found a comfortable home on this record and have become some of my favorite cuts. The massive accomplishment that is this LP becomes even more incredible when you realize that each and every track is written, largely performed, and produced by Hozier himself.

Wasteland, Baby! Is an infectious passion project from one of the brightest minds in music today which slowly sucks you in further and further in with each listen. It’s an instant classic and it’s the second album in Brendon’s Beats history to receive a perfect score.

10/10

AMAZON LINK:https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB