I am almost a complete Mark Kozelek ignoramus, and I suppose you can probably tell that from the fact that I am only now writing about an album released over a year and a half ago. At least I know that I like his music – what I’ve heard at least. All I can tell you about Jimmy Lavalle is that he is one of the founding members of The Album Leaf, a band I know the sum total of notafuckingthing about.
Given my music taste it feels like I should really know these guys pretty well, but I don’t, and the only reason I even know about this album at all is from driving Meursault on tour in the States earlier in the year, where Neil kept insisting how fantastic the album was and that I should listen to it.
And so I did. And it turns out he’s right. Not that I ever doubted him of course*.
Gustavo (below) is the song I was first pointed to: a wonderfully specific-yet-vague tune about an illegal immigrant who worked on Kozelek’s house. The moral ambiguity of the song is what Neil says he loves about Kozelek’s songwriting, and his willingness to accept the role of the bad guy and avoid self-justification when telling tricky tales.
Since then the infamous War on Drugs Can Suck My Cock has emerged and with it the widespread acceptance that Kozelek is a bit of a ‘difficult character’ at times, and I suppose that sort of chimes. If he was a difficult character bathed in self-righteousness then I guess he’d probably have killed his own career by now, but this kind of unflinching acceptance may just about diffuse it enough. Plus, I suppose, his music is fucking gorgeous.
Ceiling Gazing is absolutely lovely, a jet-lagged internal ramble full of pathos and warmth and weird sense of dislocation. It’s not unlike Lost in Translation actually, although that’s a bit of a glib comparison. It’s not alone here either. Caroline is fucking gorgeous too. Actually, they pretty much all are.
The warmth is a permanent feature of the album. Kozelek’s vocal is as distinctive, unhurried and reassuring as ever, and it is accompanied by relatively simple electronic melodies and a little bit of drum machine. It sounds a bit like an omnichord to me, and that is one of my favourite instruments, although I am hardly an expert in pulling apart musical arrangements.
The simplicity means there is a definite uniformity of tone across this – it feels very much like a late-night album for dark evenings, and writing this on exactly such an evening that feels about right. The beat means it’s not exactly morose all of the time, just low key. Low key and absolutely lovely.
Kozelek generally only releases on CD unfortunately, and you can get one here. Damn I wish it was on vinyl.
*Of course I doubted him. The man’s a fucking liability for fuck’s sake.