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Sun Kil Moon - Admiral Fell Promises

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Artist: Sun Kil Moon

Album: Admiral Fell Promises

Label: Caldo Verde

Review date: Jul. 13, 2010

Perhaps this assertion is unfairly based on personal experience, but this writer has always considered Mark Kozelek’s work to be easy-listening for ex-hardcore kids. He writes sprawling multi-partite songs in chords that hover somewhere between major and minor, filled with cathartic, cascading arpeggios. His songs uniformly elicit the same emotional range — a gazing-out-the-window melancholy, which turns out to be either a sadness about to be alleviated or, more typically, a brooding regret over a love that went wrong.

Bits of Kozelek’s songs, rather than the pieces in their entirety, linger in a listener’s mind: a perfectly wistful guitar break, the way he enunciates the words “El Paso,” just one of the almost overwhelming number of people and places with which he populates his lyrics. More than anything else, though, he has a gift for arrangements that augment his particular sound. Think of the sharp snare hits on the Red House Painters, uh, “hit,” “Song For a Blue Guitar,” or perhaps the surprisingly effective xylophone deployed occasionally on Ghosts of the Great Highway.

Kozelek’s fourth album as Sun Kil Moon, Admiral Fell Promises, however, is arranged almost entirely for a single nylon-string acoustic guitar, ornamented occasionally with vocal harmonies, gentle percussion, and (I think) a cello.

Kozelek plays beautifully, but without orchestration, his songs (which tend to run upwards of six minutes) start to seem directionless. Shifts between different sections sound abrupt, as on “The Leaning Tree,” and because the songs are arranged identically, one sometimes forgets which song’s secondary bridge she’s listening to. And though one can appreciate Kozelek’s lyrical ambitions, they can sometimes seem strained. On “Church of the Pines,” as he compares being in nature to a worship service, one harkens back alternately to Emerson or to lit-mag.

Best, then, to listen to this album passively, to appreciate it as a mood rather than as a set of compositions, and the moments that will emerge will be stunning: the moment when the harmony vocals come in on “Bay of Skulls,” the rolling guitar riff in “Third and Seneca.” Like so many other Kozelek songs, “Third and Seneca” describes a gazetteer’s-worth of specific places. It can seem almost ironic that someone whose work thrives on its consistency focuses so insistently on rooting himself — or perhaps, to paraphrase another acoustic guitar whiz, it’s that wherever he’s been and gone, the blues are all the same.

By Talya Cooper

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