Sound: Justin Broadrick and Mark Kozelek are each the frontman and driving force behind their indie rock/metal bands Jesu and Sun Kil Moon, respectively. Sun Kil Moon received multiple album of the year nominations for the release of "Benji" in 2014. That album also sold well compared to the band's other releases, charting at #75 on the general Billboard album chart. Indeed, the lyrics to a song on this album here are the contents of a letter written to Kozelek about hipster, bandwagon fans.
This album's only two credited musicians are Broadrick and Kozelek. Considering the latter's softer folk background, the biting distortion guitar work on this album is likely Justin Broadrick's. Kozelek provides the vocals, and, to be honest, it doesn't matter which of them plays the drums or bass because those instruments play such minor roles. On a couple of songs there are peaceful synthesizers along with other soft computer generated effects. They give the album its lightest moments, a nice reprieve from the harsh guitar driven songs.
The defining characteristic of this album's sound is its indie, low fi production. Fans of indie music may very well appreciate the raw, garage-like tone of the album, as it can be considered a hallmark of the genre. The guitar distorts to a modern fuzzy sound and retains enough low end to crowd out the bass, drums, and vocals. As a result, the album can come across as guitar centric even though it is clear from the playing that the vocals are the true focus. Although, if the vocals are the most important, it would help if they were clear. They aren't very well engineered, which makes even Kozelek's simple, Bob Dylan-like style hard to understand. The few moments that aren't drenched in guitar, like the song "Last Night I Rocked the Room," are the clearest because the electronic instruments and synths occupy a smaller portion of the sound (EQ) spectrum, giving the vocals more room to breathe. This is especially important when the main vocal track is doubled (not necessarily harmonized, as is normal).
Regarding the actual music, the best part is the interplay of rhythms between the guitar and drums. There is nothing especially complicated, but the guitar and drums work in tandem to produce beats that induce a physical reaction, usually varying levels of headbanging. Sometimes, on the spacier songs, it feels appropriate to stretch out your arms and move them in slow waves. The physical element of this album is not spectacular, yet it is clear that Kozelek and Broadrick were aiming for it and their efforts were not without some success.
The guitar melodies aren't particularly catchy or musically out of the ordinary, so they don't really stick out that much. Most of the guitar parts are power chord progressions played to a slow, consistent beat. Sometimes there is emphasis placed on the contrast between two particular notes and other times the slow, consistent beat is palm-muted to create a sort of calmed chugging effect. Overall though, If the guitar did not interact with the drums like it does, the melodies would not be enough to keep the music from getting boring. // 5
Lyrics: For many, the highlight of this album will be the vocals of Mark Kozelek. He is a vocalist in the vain of Bob Dylan in the sense that he sounds like he is talking the whole time, putting the true value of the vocals in his heartfelt lyrics and the intimate tone that the talking style conveys. Kozelek will vary his speed and power in small amounts to accentuate certain messages. Though his changes are small, the overall consistency of his vocals highlights the few discrepancies.
Kozelek's lyrics focus on his life experiences. His strength is that he does not mince his words. He does not sacrifice anything for the sake of rhyme or melody, allowing the full breadth of his stories to be heard. Usually the songs have a melancholy premise, though sometimes there are happy endings. Another strength of Kozelek's lyrics is that they cover a wide variety of life experiences, not just sex or drugs. He writes about childhood experiences, interactions with fans, and even the death of Yes bassist, Chris Squire. // 8
Overall Impression: In conclusion, this album focuses on the strengths of its two constituent musicians, Mark Kozelek and Justin Broadrick, most notably the lyric-writing talent of the former. The album does not break new ground from a songwriting or instrumental perspective and this becomes a weakness when the general vibe of the album naturally narrows its audience to a small crowd of indie music listeners. While this album is not the crowning achievement of the month, it is still the fruitful result of an interesting, and long awaited collaboration. // 6
- Parker Abt (c) 2016