Friday, 26 June 2009

Mark Kozelek - Lost Verses Live (2009)

fall tonight sweet paris rain
shower me in her warm kisses

Live albums are rarely something that I have the patience for. Usually, a band or musician is best represented on record, and live releases can become an indulgence on the part of the musician, a stopgap between studio albums or a tool to boost sales. In any case, they usually end up being relegated to the bargain bin. There are certain exceptions, of course, where a live album captures the essence of an artist perfectly and becomes essential listening for anyone with a passing interest in their music: think along the lines of Bob Dylan's 'Live 1966' Bootleg Series record or James Brown's 'Live at the Apollo'. Sure, comparisons to those two seem pretty lofty and hyperbolic, but Mark Kozelek's most recent solo outing, 'Lost Verses Live', could quite easily be deemed part of that minority in its own way.

Since discovering him roughly around the time that Sun Kil Moon's 'April' came out last year, Kozelek's work has grown on me to the extent that it now holds its own firm place somewhere in the list of music that I consider personal to me. Stripped down to his own sparse acoustic playing and gently soaring vocals, which resonate here perfectly while retaining a satisfying clarity of sound, the record captures the intense, soul-baring intimacy that lies at the heart of the songwriter's work and makes him so endearing. The tracklist reads like a well-put-together best-of collection of his work in Sun Kil Moon, comprising a large number of songs from their latest full-length 'April' but also a healthy number of songs on previous records, including two songs from his Modest Mouse cover record 'Tiny Cities', an excellent rendition of Stephen Sondheim's 'Send in the Clowns', and a very affecting reinterpretation of the achingly autobiographical Red House Painters classic 'Katy Song' that, through a new arrangement in his more recent fingerpicked acoustic style, lends the song a newfound warmth that makes it a more approachable prospect than the desolate Red House Painters studio version. As such, 'Lost Verses Live' is an excellent and cohesive introduction to Mark Kozelek's back catalogue for people unfamiliar with the man's previous work. Of course, there are flaws here - the track that the record names itself after lacks the drive that the original has, and the applause kicks in strangely abruptly at the end of certain songs - not to mention the omission of the career-defining 'Duk Koo Kim' - but the overall atmosphere of this record is so intoxicating that such complaints seem like minor quibbles.

Mark Kozelek

Something that I have always loved about Kozelek's music, particularly in Sun Kil Moon, is the beautifully warm, aching sense of nostalgia in his music. In terms of better-known artists to reference for newcomers to his style, one other act I could compare Kozelek's more recent work to, in terms of emotional content, is Beirut - aside from having a similar vocal style, both him and Zach Condon share the same affectionate longing for old flames and the same running lyrical fixation on travel and moving from place to place, and the personal significance of certain locations and people in their memories. 'April' in particular was a very intimate tribute to a departed loved one. Songs performed here like 'Moorestown', 'Tonight in Bilbao' and 'Blue Orchids' are great examples of this and are given absolutely beautiful renditions here. For lack of a better word, there's something very mature about his music in Sun Kil Moon which I love: every memory and every image is portrayed beautifully, with a longing fondness for these pasts of his and a warm, understated love for life that contrasts greatly to his more emotionally fraught work in Red House Painters. If you give them the required time and patience, 'April' and 'Ghosts of the Great Highway' are records that can reveal enormous amounts of depth and beauty, and I guess that someday, I'd like to be able to write music that's as warm, intimate and endearing as this.

soft light pours into the room
fingers glide over my face
a voice speaks, a figure moves
how could i walk these old dim halls again
how could i leave this room all alone

when she comes by every morning
brings back pink and pale blue orchids
when she comes by every afternoon
piano music weeps quietly
as may melts into june
when she comes by every evening
lays down beside me softly breathing
-Mark Kozelek; 'Blue Orchids'

Mark Kozelek - Lost Verses Live