Following up from the last entry, here's my other folk favourite from 2008 (well, there's the Bon Iver record too, but you've almost definitely already heard that and there's so much that's already been said about it that posting my own two contrived cents on it would be an utterly pointless exercise.) Sun Kil Moon's April was an odd one last year in that it attracted quite a bit of media attention and, rightfully, got glowing reviews; but it received quite a cold and indifferent reception from most people I know. The most obvious reason I can think of for this is that, unlike certain other records that got really popular in 2008, April requires patience and it's an unfortunate fact that a lot of listeners are lazy. You're probably not going to walk away after the first listen whistling its tunes. Those familiar with Mark Kozelek's work will know that he doesn't like to rush a good record and so to people that have heard his other work it won't come as a shock that the album's running time is in excess of 70 minutes, but to the uninitiated, it's going to require some getting used to. In fact, truth be told, April was my introduction to Kozelek too and it took me about five listens and a good read through the lyrics for its charms to really sink in.
The work was rewarding though. People seem to hold the assumption that April is a depressing record, but I think this couldn't be further from the truth. I mean, sure, it's not something you'd listen to in the company of others, and there are some darker and moodier moments in the album like 'Heron Blue' ("Don't play those violins no more/Their melancholic overtones/They echo off the floor and walls/I cannot bear to hear them"), but there's also a lot of sunshine, something that opener 'Lost Verses' shows. 'Like the River' contains one lyric that really sums up what the record is about: "I have all these memories, I don't know what for/I have them and I can't help it/Some overflow and spill out like waves/Some I will harbour for all of my days". Over the course of the album, Kozelek sifts through old memories and brings them to the surface, from romantic recollections of old flames to fond family memories. The charm of the record is in the sheer affection that he presents these memories with - he sings all his stories with a fondness and warmth that never fails to make me smile. Of course there is a melancholic aspect to it all in that there's sometimes a certain yearning to relive the past, but the record is easy to become quite attached to because of its intimacy.
The musicianship on April is excellent too - the often long and winding songs are carried by deft fingerpicking and, now and then, a tasteful bit of guitar noodling ('Tonight the Sky') or subtle dynamic/tempo shifts that really carry the songs forward ('Lost Verses', 'Tonight in Bilbao'). The album alternates between full band songs like the Neil Young-esque opening epic 'Lost Verses' and more intimate acoustic numbers like the beautiful closer 'Blue Orchids'. And for the trainspotters among you, the record is liberally sprinkled with guest appearances from the likes of Ben Gibbard and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy that aren't too obvious but nevertheless keep things interesting.
Despite all this, April isn't a particularly complex record - like the Pygmy Lush album, it carries a very simple charm in its honesty and warmth. The beauty and the emotional depth of Kozelek's storytelling and the sheer class of the songwriting, however, will ensure that in the coming years, this record will be looked upon as a classic.
I’ve risen up from the dead
With the burning leaves of autumn
If only for one last chance
That all of whom have been defeated
To put on my father’s wool coat
To smell my mother’s fragrances and perfumes
To find my young brothers and sisters
To never leave or let them go
-Sun Kil Moon; Lost Verses
Sun Kil Moon - April