Painting Houses and Bantamweight Boxing

Posted in Folk, Indie, Singer-Songwiter by jurbanik on July 21, 2010

It seems as though we at malleus&incus have a habit of avoiding posting on weekends. Whether that be a product of busyness or simply being lazy, I apologize on behalf of all of us and hope to correct the lack of posting in the near future. I wouldn’t doubt that once classes start again in September, the opposite trend will be apparent – we’ll be loading up on posts during the weekend and (hopefully) being productive during the week.

However, I hope it is okay to assume that you’re here for the music, not the apologies. This time around, I’d like to draw some attention to one Mark Kozelek. The 43 year old singer-songwriter is no newcomer to indie, but is vastly under-appreciated. The Ohio native has been a contributor to the San Francisco indie folk scene since 1989, releasing albums as part of Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon, and as a solo artist.

Despite lots of favorable reviews, none of his projects have gained the kind of following that a band such as The National has, despite having music that is just as enjoyable and shares a lot of qualities (like the baritone vocals). To be fair, The National owes much of its popularity to the use of ‘Fake Empire’ throughout the Obama campaign.

Red House Painters

Kozelek’s first project released it’s first CD in 1992, but in my opinion didn’t reach full maturity until 1995’s album, Ocean Beach. Prior to this album, the band had a bit of a drone type sound and would more accurately be described as ‘slowcore’ than ‘folk.’  Though epic and appreciated by connoisseurs, the music is not nearly as accessible as the pastoral, folk-influenced style that characterizes almost all of Kozelek’s music since then. While listening, try to pay attention to the lyrics – highly introspective and autobiographical, the songs are extremely personal; they are filled with despair and the varying instrumentation in each song reflects what Kozelek believes to be appropriate for the story he depicts.

Shadows// Ocean Beach

All Mixed Up // Songs for a Blue Guitar

Mark Kozelek

Kozelek’s solo work is primarily collections and compilations of live recordings and covers. However, these covers are dramatically rearranged, often having little in common with the original song. To be honest, the main difference in sound between his solo work and the individual bands is almost entirely due to the fact that he does not have backup – the absence of drums and other backing instruments makes his songs seem even more personal, despite the fact that the covers are among the only songs that he doesn’t compose entirely on his own. Kozelek’s most interesting solo album is probably What’s Next to the Moon. The album is entirely comprised of covers of Bon Scott era AC/DC (1974-1980).

If You Want Blood// What’s Next to the Moon

Rock ‘n’ Roll Singer// What’s Next to the Moon

Sun Kil Moon

To be honest, I didn’t start listening to Kozelek’s other efforts until recently – Sun Kil Moon has been one of my favorite bands to listen to to relax over the past few months, but it wasn’t until recently that I learned of Kozelek’s legacy. That said, Sun Kil Moon is distinctively more focused on technical instrumentals than either of the aforementioned projects. Their newest album, Admiral Fell Promises, especially features long instrumental stretches of complex picking as Kozelek glides over his nylon strings. While fans of his older music may not appreciate the diminished importance of his entrancing vocals, the music is still extremely beautiful. Another thing worth noting is the fact that Sun Kil Moon is heavily acoustic guitar based – while Red House Painters features electric guitars, effects pedals, and pianos, all of the songs on Sun Kil Moon’s two most recent ablums are dominated by acoustic guitar.

Heron Blue// April

Sam Wong Hotel// Admiral Fell Promises

On a side note, some of you may be wondering the significance of ‘Bantamweight Boxing’ in this post’s title. The truth is that Sun Kil Moon’s name is not an prophetic statement about the possibility that the Sun may eventually swell large enough during a supernova phase so as to envelop the moon. Instead, it is a play on the Korean bantamweight boxer, Moon Sung-Kil. The amateur boxer took two world titles with 164 KOs over his career, but like Kozelek, recieved little attention for his achievements. In fact, Kozelek seems to have some sort of soft spot for Korean boxers – one of the songs off Ghosts of the Great Highway, Duk Koo Kim, is named after the lightweight Korean Boxer who died after a match with Ray ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini. The song exemplifies the transition from RHP to SKM – there is more mixed instrumentation, and the dual purpose of the song of paying tribute to Duk Koo Kim and telling an elaborate personal story.

Duk Koo Kim// Ghosts of the Great Highway


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