The first time someone showed me Mark Kozelek’s tunes, it was like an audio orgasm. The friend told me, “If you want to seduce someone, put on Sun Kil Moon.” And for the earlier stuff, this is definitely true. Not that I’ve tried. But I have regarded SKM’s Tiny Cities as a standby bachelorette party gift for girlfriends for whom I don’t feel comfortable buying lingerie.
However, with the release of Among the Leaves, I feel that quality has evaporated. The album deals with frustration, aging and frustration about aging. Also, he seems to hate the millennial generation. It’s beautiful, but a total bummer.
“Sunshine in Chicago” is terribly depressing. He disregards his current crop of “dad fans,” wistfully reminiscing about all the hot broads that used to turn up at shows. Oh, and he’s getting old. It’s a self-indulgent reflection on glory days long gone. This is fodder for an old man’s whiny LiveJournal.
Make no mistake, however, about Kozelek’s bedroom action, despite the aging thing. He’s still getting laid plenty. He mentions at least five instances throughout the album, three of which were with exotic, non-American chicks. “That Bird Has a Broken Wing” addresses this tendency, brushing it all off with the line, “we’re all half alley cat.” So there’s that.
He gets a little hypocritical about the age thing in “The Moderately Talented Yet Attractive Young Woman vs The Exceptionally Talented Yet Not So Attractive Middle Aged Man.” He rags on some smokin’ young thing with whom he once had a fling. She used to be mad sexy, but with passing years, that diminished, making her mediocre artistic prowess more apparent. Kozelek’s pretty blunt about that fact ( “Your eyes / They glistened / But no one listened”; “On stage, you weren’t strong / I don’t recall any songs / But when you sang, you hit the notes / I’ll give you that / You didn’t choke”).
Following the deranged romance circuit comes “Elaine,” chronicling a relationship with a crackhead. He feels guilty and wants to help with all her problems but “babe, I’ve got enough of my own.” Yes. Like those back pains and all those foreign chicks flooding your mailbox with letters of longing. And let’s not forget the dad fans, and more importantly, their godawful taste in footwear.
It seems like more than anything else, this record echoes Kozelek’s longing for yesteryear. In “Young Love,” he admits, “I went on, aching with memories of young love.” The man is only in his mid-40s, but judging from all this kvetching, you’d think he was actually 70ish. You’ve got a lot of life left, man!
Naturally, longing for days past leads to ragging on the current youngster generation, namely, the millenials. We’re totally jerks. “Lonely Mountain” highlights how much tougher Kozelek had it, compared to today’s twentysomethings. “Gotta work hard for your sweet spot / Devoted my whole life / Nothing came by luck / Your dad paid for your college / My dad gave me five bucks,” he sings. Another track, “Not Much Rhyme With Everything’s Awesome At All Times,” makes the same argument, talking about a kid who calls himself a poet but just rots his time away plopped in front of his laptop.
The only point when I actually start to worry about the guy, though, is in “UK Blues,” the first half of a two-song diary following touring time in Europe. There is actually a hunk of the song with the lyrics, “Denmark, Denmark / Everybody’s white / Everyone rides bikes / Denmark, Denmark / Everyone rides bikes / Everybody’s white.” What?
“Song for Richard Collopy” is a nice break from the droney tone of the rest of the album. It shouts praises of the late Bay Area-based stringed instrument restoration artist. Although it’s three years late to be a timely obituary, it’s a genuine celebration of the man’s passion, dedication and innovation through narrative.
Another great moment comes with “Red Poision,” a really dark, daunting number about a strange trip to Chinatown.
I’m sure Among the Leaves will find a place in some folks’ sexy music canon, but I just feel like all the sullen lyricism dulls any chance of frisky spark. This does not make it a bad album, but it was a bit of a disappointment.