Sunday, August 8, 2010

Album Review: Sun Kil Moon – Admiral Fell Promises

Mark Kozelek is a treasure. He has been ploughing an individual furrow for 20 years, through Red House Painters, solo albums and now Sun Kil Moon, with little deviation from the original template set out by 1992’s Down Colorful Hill. Indeed I would call this admirable dedication to the cause. He is also one of the most talented guitarists around.

This album consists of virtually nothing but Kozelek’s voice and nylon acoustic guitar, played classically. Opening track Alesund starts out like Duk Koo Kim but becomes folkier and more austere, with a beautiful melody. There are subtle keyboard touches which don’t detract from this masterclass in guitar picking, as his playing on this and all the other tracks has reached new levels of excellence. After 5 and a half minutes or so we get an instrumental coda, a format that many of the other tracks follow. The song is jawdroppingly good, and a breathtaking way to start the album.

Maintaining a sombre mood is the following track, Half Moon Bay, with an equally pretty fingerpicked guitar pattern and Kozelek’s reverbed vocals, singing about “wandering in a dream”. Some of the ‘guitar runs’ on this track are particularly impressive, though borderline show-off territory! Sam Wong Hotel is similarly brooding.

Third and Seneca is a little more cheerful sounding, with a seriously impressive middle section, before the guitar picking becomes even more intricate. The mood lightens further with the relatively straightforward You Are My Sun, as close as this album comes to a simple love song, with a chorus that simply sees him dragging out the name ‘Leona’ (“Leeeooonaaa”). It works pretty well!

The album is a series of gorgeous musical passages. The Leaning Tree features a lovely middle section, echoing April’s Blue Orchids where Kozelek sings “you came to me in a dream…. I long for one more day with you in my life.” Later in the album, Australian Winter returns us to austerity with a suitably chilling Spanish guitar pattern. Amazingly, the album doesn’t peter out as Church of the Pines has another fantastic melody. It sounds devastatingly sad, which really is Kozelek’s speciality, before ending on a somewhat hopeful note with Bay of Skulls.

A criticism I have of this album is that most of the tracks are pretty similar, with no electric workout to balance the album. Also many of the songs are quite long, and some are a little drawn-out with lengthy instrumental guitar passages. Luckily I love acoustic guitar played like this. And this album is unremittingly lovely.