At 2 hours and 9 minutes, Sun Kil Moon’s latest offering, ‘Common as Light And Love Are Red Valleys’ is as long and challenging as the tittle suggests. Mark Kozelek presents a difficult and unpalatable album that even challenges you to stop listening. But it is worth persisting with just for the lyricism – balanced between humourous, morose and politically loaded. Covering topics which have not necessarily been a feature of Sun Kil Moon’s catalogue, Kozelek discusses his position in American modernity.
Objectively ‘Common As Light’ is demanding. Within each song there are musical and subject matter changes, which, are difficult to follow. Kozelek is aware of this and engages the listener directly. He suggests that “Maybe you can’t relate to this song” on ‘Seventies TV Show Theme Song’. Almost encouraging you to give up with it. And you wouldn’t be blamed for doing so. But persistence with this complex work is rewarded with lyricism which at it’s best is poetry. ‘Common As Light’ employs Sun Kil Moon’s usual storytelling style yet, Kozelek looks more outwardly for his content. This contrasts to his customary introspective macabre stories as seen on ‘Benji’.
On the surface ‘Common As Light’ is humourous and playful. On ‘Bergen to Trondheim’ he sings, “I can’t say I ever liked Radiohead too much myself / But that doesn’t mean I’d walk into a room with a crowbar and try to beat their fans to death”. And on ‘Bastille Day’ he compares Mick Jagger’s elderly life – out there getting women pregnant – to that of his own grandfather. Who in contrast was “being fed baby food with a plastic spoon” at 72.
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The humour offsets the political discussion. Kozelek questions his own position in the modern world. ‘Common As Light’ acerbically deals with the phenomenon of Trumpism, Syria, gun crime and even the role of social media. The album’s standout track, ‘Philadelphia Cop’, discusses modernity in relation to the artist himself, “I don’t give a f*ck about things like who’s the best or the worst on Twitter.” Whilst Kozelek is indifferent to how modernity affects him, he is concerned with how it is changing America. ‘Lone Star’ offers the most comprehensive damnation of technology’s influence on society – finding the macabre in the American dream.
Devoting time to ‘Common as Light’ is worth the effort in most part. There are still the familiarly macabre scenes in abundance and an obsession with boxing. Sun Kil Moon assumes the role of elder statesman to review modern America and in turn himself – his role in modernity. Overall, Sun Kil Moon questions the need for his own existence in modern times and this is reiterated conceptually – is there a place for a challenging 2 hour-long album in modern music?
‘Common As Light And Love Are Red Valleys Of Blood’ is out now via Rough Trade Records Ltd.