By Alec Warkentin
Caldo Verde Records
From the timid introductory bars of “24,” the opening track from Red House Painters’ 1992 debut LP Down Colorful Hill, frontman Mark Kozelek has been afraid of growing old. On Common as Light and Love are Red Valleys of Blood, his latest double-album as Sun Kil Moon, the prolifically unappeasable singer-songwriter delves even deeper into his struggles with aging in an ever-changing, unrepentant world.
During the over-two-hour runtime of Common as Light… Kozelek further experiments with the stream-of-consciousness lyricism first explored on 2013’s rapturous Benji (and continued with its follow-up Universal Themes), interpolating spoken-word vignettes across bass-and-drum-centric narratives that shift from rhythmically-heavy to delicately-melodic as suddenly as Kozelek changes lyrical topics.
With no track under six minutes, the self-aware Kozelek further emboldens his reputation as an outspoken mouthpiece on Common as Light… utilizing the album as a pedestal in which to shuck his many opinions of society (including, but not limited to: millennials, the political climate in America, gender-neutral washrooms, terrorism, and hillbillies) into the musical void to varying degrees of listenability.
While many of the central themes explored on the album can be construed simply as rambling topical observations by Kozelek, there are a few moments of poignant beauty that strike an emotionally resonant chord and are reminiscent of the earlier days of Sun Kil Moon: “Chili Lemon Peanuts” features potentially the best execution of Kozelek’s spoken-word affectation thus far, “Philadelphia Cop” is a low-key forlorn funk lament, and “The Highway Song” makes reading true-crime sound way cooler than in actuality.
Common as Light… also contains many references to the ‘usual suspects’ of the last few Sun Kil Moon releases, such as the sport of boxing (Manny Pacquiao and Muhammad Ali both receive multiple mentions), food (sans crab cakes, this time), and Kozelek’s love of true crime (Richard Ramirez returns, albeit briefly), further contributing to the mythos of what can unfortunately be called the Sun Kil Moon-iverse that Kozelek is consciously creating with each new release.
While the format of Benji was both a refreshing and exciting change from the melancholic slower works of Sun Kil Moon, Common as Light… is undoubtedly a taxing experience for the listener, and the shift now seems to be focused less on the musical bent (though it does feature Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth killing it on drums), and more on the means for Kozelek to record his audio-diary via long-winded songs that aren’t necessarily bad enough to not listen to, but are at times unforgiving.
In short, it seems that in the past 25 years the man afraid of growing old has done just that, and in true Kozelek fashion, Common as Light and Love are Red Valleys of Blood reflects the inevitable perils we all must ultimately face — but not giving a fuck either way.Common as Light and Love are Red Valleys of Blood, Sun Kil Moon