You can count them on one hand, the songwriters who are such masters of words and meter that their work deserves to be studied seriously alongside Byron and Yeats. That must be a frightening proposition for songwriters-men and women who have the benefit of hiding behind melodies and sonic obfuscation-to be rendered so nakedly, the totality of their work reduced to words on a page.
You can count them on one hand, the songwriters who are such masters of words and meter that their work deserves to be studied seriously alongside Byron and Yeats. That must be a frightening proposition for songwriters-men and women who have the benefit of hiding behind melodies and sonic obfuscation-to be rendered so nakedly, the totality of their work reduced to words on a page. Mark Kozelek has invited such scrutiny by writing narratives that are so engrossing in their desperation that only serious listeners need apply. Like very few songwriters, he’s about to let his words speak for themselves.
“On the first edition to this book, it was a trip, going back through the old stuff,” he says of Nights of Passed Over, the career-spanning collection of his lyrics that is being released in the United States for the first time. “But for this edition, I distanced myself. It was technical. I really don’t like reading the old lyrics. A lot of them are poorly written and seem amateurish to me now. But that’s how it is for a lot of people, I’m sure, when they look back…maybe what they are most proud of is from years ago. I don’t know. But I think my writing gets stronger over time.”
Ample evidence of such can be found on April, the third Sun Kil Moon album since Kozelek retired the Red House Painters moniker. Kozelek again digs into the emotionally raw but thematically rich terrain, writing songs about fighting cancer and missing home. There are blustery guitar epics and humble acoustic ballads, and guest appearances by Will Oldham and Ben Gibbard. April is an intensely personal album, but those looking for a uniting thread will be disappointed.
“All of my records are scattered,” Kozelek explains. “This one has songs that are all over the map of my life. As an example, the songs ‘Moorestown’ and ‘Harper Road’ come from very different places. This album is intertwined with several different relationships and places and times in my life. Several of the songs deal with someone who has had a big impact on me, but not all.”
Unlike 2003’s Ghosts of the Great Highway, there are no tragic tales of deceased boxers or pop culture references. The person at the center of these songs seems to be Kozelek himself. And while he has never possessed an oversized persona-often baffling critics with unexpected movie cameos and covers projects-Kozelek just might be the rare artist who is savvy enough to know that pacing himself allows him to discover new territory.
“The main thing is to write when I feel like it,” he says. “I suppose I’d repeat myself if I had to make an album twice a year. But I don’t write just for the hell of it. I write when there’s something to write about.”