Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Live Review - Sun Kil Moon - Universal Themes

And the ocean air came through my window, and the sound of foghorns, and then when I woke...

I just got back from a big Smash tournament to find out this leaked. I played OK at the tournament but kinda under-preformed. I had a lot of fun which is what really counts but there's always some level of salt at thinking about how I could have done better. And then I get home and read a bunch of S2J's ask.fm which is wonderful and brilliant and something like a new medium of text that could never have existed otherwise and offers insight into someone who would otherwise never articulate his thoughts and feelings to this extent. And said thoughts and feelings are making me feel some type of way about Smash and competition and all that.

Plus there's another tournament at the start of July and people are making plans for it and it'll be the last time I'll get to team with a friend of mine who's been my longest/most successful team partner and maybe the last time I'll play with a lot of other people and that's all making me feel nostalgic but sorta conflicted like how much should I practice for this, how much do I care, what aspects do I really care about, all that. But I'm also just super looking forward to it, and I know it'll be a great weekend, just like this weekend was.

And my iPod seems to have died at some point during the weekend which sucks. And I just tried to use my building's dryer but I screwed it up somehow and it ate my money and I had to spend more money to make it work. And my jeans are ripping. And money and school and graduation and what's after that and all that. And also I just watched the series finale to Parks and Rec and I thought that it was pretty great, all things considered, and the show was overall pretty great, probably one of my favorite sitcoms of this "era", definitely my favorite "nice" sitcom and generally the "nicest" sitcom I like at all, and I'd like to write a lot more about various things I liked about it. And I also felt like weeping when I saw this video and then these images.

Most of all I'm feeling some type of way about episode 8 of Hibike! Euphonium, which I am still compulsively rewatching. Each time I see it it seems somehow even more charged with emotional energy and meaning, which seems like it ought to be impossible. It's well beyond increasing familiarity; I successfully challenged myself to write down every scene in order, I'm close to having dialogue on lock. It's transcended the idea of linearity; the entirety of the show is in my mind as I see each scene. It's very comforting and relaxing, like a long walk home on an everyday path. But it also still teases at a secret meaning that I have yet to fully unlock, which fills me with inspiration and longing. If I'm on the ball expect to see a lot more on this subject tomorrow.

Sorry for the long intro, that's basically how I'm feeling atm, you can skip it if you want

The way I'm feeling is "some type of way" and I can't articulate it better than that. But this is the real point I was trying to make: most people, most of the time, are all filled up with thoughts and feelings and memories and expectations, and their emotions are complex. Mark Kozelek understands this and knows the only way to really say anything worth saying is to just really say it. His music is a rich tapestry of the mind, resisting easy narrativization or summary. There's themes and focuses and stories, sure, but they result from his attempts to fully express the contents of his mind which also contains these connections.

And he knows that if you go about this with full honesty and sincerity and absolutely no pretension (for all his "beefs" and perceived elitism, there really isn't anything pretentious about Kozelek - he just says exactly what he means - this is the last I'll talk about this issue because who honestly cares anymore) you can turn a bunch of images and anecdotes into something much more than the sum of their parts. Sun Kil Moon has absolutely nothing to offer me if viewed on paper but somehow it adds up to something memorable and beautiful. I'll admit that Red House Painters wasn't really anything special to me, nor did I even understand that it was something special to anyone else. I didn't really think of Sun Kil Moon much outside of "cool name" until Benji started getting ridiculous praise from everywhere and I decided to give it a try. I don't typically listen to middle aged men on solo-acoustic projects singing largely about middle aged things but even the cynical fucks on /mu/ were freaking out about this so I couldn't not. And then it was my 6th favorite album of 2014.

So here we are at Universal Themes which seems like it is largely in the mode of Benji: emotionally-driven storytelling which aims to articulate memories and feelings in the most straightforward, simple, and honest way imaginable. Oh, and the music, which if it doesn't bore you (like I still think it "ought" to bore me... it's just acoustic guitar and maaaaybe drums) is about the most beautiful thing imaginable. Let's go.

Sun Kil Moon - Universal Themes
Live Review

1. The Possum
Okay this was a single and I listened to it like one hundred times. It is pretty much perfect imo. I think I like it better than everything on Benji... maybe. Idk. I feel differently whenever I listen to Benji lol. Okay so the plot is: Mark sees a possum that was attacked by a cat the night before. They see it wander down into a little nook by the air conditioner. Then Mark goes to a Godflesh concert. Then he hangs out at his apartment and thinks about stuff. Eventually he thinks of watching the possum die. That's all. It's a nice little story that operates from a wonderful place of assumed familiarity and an almost friendly directness, it feels like you're his friend and he's telling you this stuff. His description of the concert is AWESOME, I love how he builds the sort of intensity he's admiring, and how no one afaik knows what the hell he's saying by the end. He really wants to get across what about Godflesh he loves and it's really endearing, how hard he's trying. He has a really good use of onomatopoeia etc but it's so natural. and then OMG that transition. hoooooo boy. It still gets me. "And then we had pizza", "Until 4am I watched movies, my ears were ringing", "We talked about the concert, and about the possum down in the nook"... hoooow, HOOWWW... the layering of his voice is just GOLDEN, it is a golden sound. The little runs at 4:40... the feeling of a little indulgence... like, he knows damn well we're feeling this shit. and the DRUMS, omg, I hope this album has a lot of drum elements. and the way the original riff from this section comes back in, hnnnng. so delicate but also full. "We had dinner and watched HBO, and I'm grateful for her love and for my friends". Jesus. The way it picks up at 6:00ish is SUBLIME and I don't use that word too often. it's like when you come around a corner while hiking and you see scenery that makes you want to cry, that's what sublime means and that's what i mean right now. "For to live another day is much better than to not", "I'd like to die with music in my ears"... Godflesh and Ravel... Rich simple philosophy, pure real philosophy. Melancholy but not defeated. These little resonant tones echoing about... "That old possum lost the fight"... jesus... most people shy away before they even get half this close to such a direct emotional attack... dammit Mark... this ending section is strange but eventually I loved it and I still do. ****

2. Birds of Films
what kinda weird dyslexia title is this?? Or is it birds that have appeared in films?? The music is (obviously) rich and winding and intriguing. jesus wow what is this... slice of a brutal but wonderful life? "I feel out of my place and out of my element"... this is the brutality of working on a film?? ohhhhh omg. the birds he hears while filming. how the hell did he end up here. hahahaha. wow. and the way we return to the introduction with this extra "drama" of the echo and such... "Till I fell asleep to the sound..." "The sound of the birds, the birds of films", in case we didn't get it. "No body knows the names of the birds, the birds of films", and he ASKED AROUND. man you know it's like he just felt super emotional one day and remembered all this shit and wrote it down and here we are. haha the way he doubles his voice on reciting the note. paul has a sore throat. OMG. the subjects of conversation. jesus. I can't even speak on this. "And like a gentleman, I didn't try". no one else would say that. NO ONE ELSE. no one else has that sort of self-conception. this song is BARELY HALF OVER. it's ONLY THE SECOND SONG. what the ACTUAL hell is going on? he ACHED for his girl back home. u might think theres a million people who write songs like this but check around theres really only 1 and this is him. omg what. this transition. how. that little cymbal... "I saw kitty cats sitting on porches", "Sixty swiss fucking francs"... there's almost no connection to these stories outside of his mind but now it is in my mind too. How wonderful. Boxing analogies. a complete picture of humanity through boxing analogies. how did this happen so suddenly? and the STRINGS, jesus... the growing intensity... "Fell asleep in her room to the sound of cropdusters and the highway", "I could no longer hear the birds of films"... i mean COME ON. ***

3. With a Sort of Grace I Walked to the Bathroom to Cry
this title is ON POINT, 10/10 title. this GUITAR, what the hell? this vocal technique?!??!? he's crying already ;____; OMG at 0:50, he gets so intense, I have no idea what he said lol. this is so good, a loud full electric guitar sound. "I dug a hole for my box turtle"... what the hell is this song about lol I think I missed some key lines. hahaha omg. the brutality of the title line. where he says toilet instead. "Do you remember when we were young? Young? Young little kids!" JESUS. this is the sort of thing people post in all-caps on /mu/ in "what parts make you cry" threads. hahaha omg the transition there was nuts... "gave me a fucking headache" wow lol. And now this slow bluesy business... I love the sort of attitude shift he has while "noodling" around on an electric guitar vs. an acoustic one. and that little phantom riff in the back. "I see poetry in every inch of it", this is the best gift of Kozelek I think. top 5 gifts at least. "At the side of the road I see a dead groundhog on his back, and I walk over to him..." this whole story hinges for me on his calling the groundhog "he" I think... not "it", but "he". and then wowwowowwow what is this now, intensity again, this wonderful muddy sound... This is good, i feel like "rocking out" to this, which is a weird feeling for me to have. "I love ya love ya love ya love ya Teresa and I'm really sorry that I gotta leave ya", damn haha no other way to put it than that. he seems to have adopted a song structure like that of GY!BE like wow look at this sudden depressurization, suddenly everything is air. "And as I walk around the block you live on, it smells so much like our childhood", "I remember when I first heard Led Zeppelin's Tea for One"... holy shit calm down Mark. "I'll take that memory to my grave as one of my happiest moments".............. if it was anything less than perfect it'd be trite. but luckily it is perfect. the smile that still graces your daughters. jfc. the guitarwork reminds me of "positive drone" albums like Gas's Pop in the best way. ***

4. Cry Me a River Williamsburg Sleeve Tattoo Blues
11/10 title. makes me think of MDE williamsburg street fashion interviews lmao. "Went to see a band tonight and they won't play my favorite tunes, it's 2012 but I like the ones from 1992". Jesus. AHahahahahaha omg. This is a pretty funny song. very self-aware. he hates this band but what's he gonna do? wow the way his vocals drop out at 1:20 it's amazing. but nooowww it isn't just a joke, it's obviously a story about a crippled family friend who always smiled, and another story, what the fuck, a 10 year old who died in a hunting accident. jesus. CRY ME A RIVER, WILLIAMSBURG SLEEVE TATTOO BLUES. the least likely anthemic hook of 2015, but also the best one? he's having some fun on the guitar at 3:10, real actual explorative creative fun. and what the hell, what are these effects?? These echoes and waterish depths? and now this strange simple melody? makes me feel on a super gut level "I wanna cry"... at 5:00 we get this total tonal shift on it... and he'll tell us another story, about Jimmy, a boxer, of course... the mother who encouraged the boxer who killed her son to fight again. quack quack quack quack quack. holy shit. shit shit shit shit. this verse is insane. aaaahhhh and then the hook again. i knew it would come but i was NOT ready, jesus. after all this: cry him a river, williamsburg sleeve tattoo blues. ***

5. Little Rascals
Hahaha what is this one? so rambunctious. I was just telling someone about the little rascals earlier this weekend. "Get up on stage and play beautiful music with them", ahhh here we go again with death... Drummer friend named Steve, probably someone famous lol. Raising a 14 year old cat of his girlfriend's friend... and now we hear the effect of it's hypnotizing eyes. Kozelek grapples with death as much as Michael Gira or MC Ride or Phil Elvium. Really grapples with it. a fight to the death. jesus. this is amazing, this sound... the depth, the complexity, the feeling of both homo- and hetero-geneousness. and then what wow my friend Will, who could that be? Smart as fuck. lol. Will Oldham maybe?? who knows. The way Mark talks about music is jawdropping. feels like how s2j talks about Melee MAYBE but who knows what I mean by that. "She's gonna kick my ass at Scrabble again and again", "My whole family's in denial about a sick relative", and then this hypnotizing feeling of not thinking about it. Holy hell. how did he come up with this? the structure of all these tracks is just on another level. bold and confident. he knows damn well etc etc i already said that. s/o to kanye i hope you listen to this album because this is some mindblowing shit. And then back in with this rugged sorta flow. I love how he mentions the specific songs he plays with his specific friends. And back to the airplane... I can't even speak on this... on paper this song would read as a parody of himself... he tells stories and investigates his feelings on death and how he feels his friends feel. and then he tries to express it musically too. like this outro. this means something. to me and him and all of you. how. howwww. ***

6. Garden of Lavender
Longest track on the album hooo boy here we go! "And my mind kept racing to my garden of lavender... I wanted to get to them, so they wouldn't die. When I got home they were dry as weeds" Jesus. This juxtaposition between the practical and the poetic. Making poetry with no pretense. "Inside my heart cried". The actual situation. The actual feelings. real fucking life. etc. "Swarmed upon by bumblebees"... omg I just realized how much Kozelek's work reminds me of Chris Ware, in the best possible way of course. And wow this shift omg. "I see the big orange tabby cat"... these are the sort of incidents that my grandma reports to me. Looking for a belly rub. What an endearing and magical perspective. These vocals are amazing, so intricately layered but every layer is so pure and emotive. "And I know it'll end someday..." "Wondering who lived here before, just like I sometimes do, although I've never really cared to explore".... This is like... the sort of farm experience that forms the ideal. "I walked downtown and saw the Christmas lights along the highway and how they shine, and I'm reminded when I was a child, and how happy I was when I opened a box and saw a guitar inside." and there it is. the empathy, the humanity. "I feel like I've lived so many lives I can't put it all together", ironic because that's exactly what he does and it feels like one wonderful life to me. "They dropped me off at an old spooky hotel, I felt like an old man in the castle looking over the canal"... these little moments... "Still stewing about my dried up lavender"... jesus... not many people remember their emotions like this. "And I dreamed of a bluejay digging up a seed and passing it to another's beak", ;________; AND A POSSUM. A POSSUM AGAIN. omg. this whole album. omg. I love when he switches to the entirely spoken sections... the transition... "The soundcheck sounded great", this is like... some of the best stuff LCD Soundsystem does, y'know? Some Losing my Edge shit but without all the irony. ahhh oh my god. this outro is just so nice. so soothing. the musical equivalent of a tender tired smile. ahhhhhhhh.......... ***

7. Ali/Spinks 2
This was a single too but I didn't listen to it because spoilers. A boxing themed one... way back to the sort of energy and electricity of track 3. Talking about actors, crazy intense sort of singing, so much information lmao. almost a DFWesque completeness. praising his own songwriting abilities - laugh, cry, happy, shit their pants like babies. all accurate. Wow this weird distortion noisey section. I didn't think he was capable of such a thing. So intense, relentless, spilling onto itself again and again. Feels very performative and "jammy" in a good way. and then we transition right out into something else. RAVEL! his major occupations of this album. All the good southern food, makes me hungry just to hear about it lol. "The closest thing to a grandma I've ever had", what about the one that you crashed the car in the driveway of? lol??? his dad's friend died at 99, weeks away from 100. he told his dad he was ready to go. jesus. wow. this is how it actually happens, y'know. I've experienced it and so have you. And so has Mark. "Watching True Detective on DVD", hahaha omg. These stories. Which guitars I'll bring to Japan. Dreams of a little kitty cat, nightmares about nasty snake fishes. "You never know if it'll be a good or bad dream, but nothing beats falling asleep to the sound of the streetcar in New Orleans". And a memory of watching the fight... ahh... this one was just almost hilariously packed. Like twelve stories. ***

8. This Is My First Day And I'm Indian And I Work At A Gas Station
20/10 title. Wonderful churning intro, mulling over ideas. A friend with the shingles. "She don't deserve any of it"... lots of little house troubles, and broke a tooth on a bone in pea soup... hahaha omg. "Yes sir, thank you, have a good day sir". I can't even speak on this. Like... this is just his life. And i feel like I'm living it in a way I can't quite describe but get from very little else. A thoroughness to it, like Bela Tarr movies. But also like a slice of life anime. But also like DFW describing the blizzard or the midwest or other godtier parts like that. Nervous about the movie, like the nervousness of the guy at the gas station. Poetry of emotions. "I was doing pushups and situps and I was going fucking crazy and going up the walls", the cat that becomes a brat, talking to famous actresses. "If only I had class like Ted Turner or Gregory Peck", jesussss. "Which is great, because at this point I'm losing my fucking my mind". "Nevermind all the other verses I wrote about Switzerland". hahaha omg. World issues, he has friends over in the middle east, he has friends everywhere. What a wonderful friend he must be. Had to let a band member go. Holy shit. "I said whatever you do, don't ask me about Switzerland". hahahahaha. "I don't give a fuck, one day they're all gonna miss me", hahahahaha oh wow. OMG the chimes at 7:20, and this kid who doesn't know what to do, spent 17 grand on the Mayweather/Pacquino fight. I spent like 17 bucks total lmao. For a few beers and wings while I watched it at a bar with friends. omg. and he says the same thing as the gas station guy. omg. omg. this album is ending with Ben too. "What a nice combination that was"... "I hoped that some day they'd make it into a song"... "I got picked on for having a flip phone", the smartest man in the world had the same flip phone. Jesus. "It's February 24th, and I still feel a little high from how good everything felt last night". Wwowoowwow. ****

Okay that was FANTASTIC

Like... I expected to like it. I expected to like it about as much as I did Benji I guessed. But that was like... omg. I'm not gonna get in to my stupid rating system or talk about why I bother at all but I feel like I should point out that I don't usually expect to give any three star ratings on a given album, and never before have I given such good rankings across the board. The only album that probably has better ratings is Laideronnette and that's straight up my favorite album of all time.

But this is just a silly live review first impressions sort of thing so I'm not about to start making statements about how much I like this album vs other albums. But I am super hyped about it and I want to get down every aspect of that I can think of right now, as is the purpose of these things. Of course one big one thing is the complete assurance that every good feeling I have about it will only intensify as I listen to it more, and that tons more good feelings will crop up too. I'm listening to it again right now and I feel like I'll never stop wanting to hear it, and that this desire might actually beat out my desire to watch Euph e08 over and over (!!!!!).

Like Benji, the album seems to be an exploration of his thoughts and feelings triggered by particular memories. Much of it seems to be written immediately after the discussed memory, and there's a lot of recurring instances of lying in bed in the morning, travelling on a plane, etc. that you can very easily picture being the setting of his actual writing. These writings merge with memories they inspire and the contexts of his revisiting them to create a rich "story of the story", where a given situation becomes linked to more and more memories and feelings, and then the sum total is expressed on the song.

The structure of the songs also seems to fit this sort of writing process. I get the sense that he turned to each track while in certain emotional "modes" and added to them through that, but that this process was complicated by each and every song also demanding certain emotional qualities (like productivity, or perfectionism) at certain times. I'm not sure if I'm explaining this well. Basically I think each song came from a certain emotional place, but then also had to be revisited in many emotional times. The result is that each song is certainly themed and not dissonant or contradicting, but also greatly varied and progressive. The best analogy I can think of is the Magic: the Gathering colour pie but I'm a big nerd.

The variety of this album on every level is absurd... there's crazy grungy electric rock and rich acoustic weaving and everything in between... there's melancholy and wistful memories, and brutal storytelling, and daily anecdotes. Some are explained, some speak for themselves. They all interact and become something more than their parts, they become a real life.

I think it's this quality that I truly appreciate most: the idea that we're getting a genuine and full slice of his life, one that we can really feel on a level that I don't think I can quite articulate. Many, many texts that I really, really love aim for this quality: the thorough and deliberate staging of Bela Tarr movies, the exhaustive detail of some DFW sections, the endless "lifestyle porn" of, geez, lots of stuff, let's say slice of life anime and Hemingway... alt lit writing, too, like Tao Lin-type stuff, but with no irony... oh, and the music-industry self-awareness of guys like James Murphy, but again, full sincerity mode... no pretense of being "normal", but no elitism either. Just his actual life.

Man I feel like I could ramble on endlessly about this. Maybe I will at another time. But right now it's 3:30 and I should get some sleep. Please check out this album. Please listen to it in a quiet room and think about what you are hearing as much as you can. If you don't think it's interesting, then, um... try to be interested. I am convinced this is a very very good album, so good that I'm ready to go to bat arguing about it on /mu/ and the like. I'm almost scared to look at the pitchfork review (assuming it came out a few hours ago, unsure though) because whatever score they give it will send /mu/ into riots. But I really hope I didn't just go totally insane and this album is actually very very good and everyone will recognize it.

I thought Benji had it "all" but this has so much more. Every song has so many phases, so many stories, so many feelings. Every transition takes my breath away a bit or a lot. Almost every lyric feels like it's on the verge of hitting you like a truck if you listen to it on the right evening. Every image is visceral and immediate with just the right amount of fleeting. Every sound is masterful. There's a real complexity of composition, one that speaks from an unbridled confidence and a genuinely hungry curiosity. There's a modern Swans-esque feeling of Kozelek being perpetually unsatisfied, desperate to make every track a masterpiece, not to let a single second go limp, to make every escalation and transition explode or evaporate flawlessly. And yet (also like Swans actually) everything is very human and intense and real and "dirty" and close, with no sense of the performance or the writing process being hidden.

Okay I'm rambling on about it again. What a great album. I hope you think so too.

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