Men in nice shirts playing guitars and singing songs aren’t exactly an endangered species in the universe, and as popular music has splintered off into an ever increasing number of genres, sub-genres and micro-genres, the iconography of acoustic guitar clad males has become increasingly difficult to place. For the music critic, this is a dangerous state of affairs. We are essentially an indolent lot, all too keen most of the time to apply a haphazard generalisation, lazily associate an artist with a wholly inaccurate genre, or skew of supposed kindred spirits. Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek is a good case in point. Ostensibly, he is to be thrown in with the Will Oldhams, Bill Callahans and Samuel Beams of this world. See, there we go again: lumping three hugely distinctive singer-songwriters together, all of whom share little apart from a literary, predominantly acoustic approach to songwriting.
This is particularly pertinent when reviewing the music of Koselek, an artist for whom the usual iconography is hugely misleading. He was of course the chief songwriter and vocalist of the much loved Red House Painters, but then they fell out and so he went solo. He released a few albums then formed Sun Kil Moon, but the new Sun Kil Moon record features nothing but Koselek’s solo guitar, original songs and vocals. But it’s not a Koselek solo record - it’s Sun Kil Moon. Make sense? Not a whole lot.
Fortunately the music of new record 'Admiral Fell Promises' speaks for itself, a highly deceptive collection of songs that indicates an abrupt departure from previous recordings under the Sun Kil Moon name, stylistically as well as in the personnel involved. There is none of the driving '70s period Neil Young muscularity here, in its place is a sophisticated guitar technique sitting somewhere between Paco De Lucia, Richard Thompson and Giant Sand. It provides a fluid and textured backdrop to Koselek’s limited but hugely evocative voice and lyrics - the latter overwhelmingly concerned with internal domestic dramas usually occurring in large cities. There are nice contrasts at play here between the warmth and pastoral overtones of the playing and the quiet urban drama of the lyrics. If it’s all a little mannered and lacking in dramatic shading, that’s no bad thing. The kind of miniaturised storytelling Koselek trades intentionally avoids drawing direct attention.
This is deceptive music largely devoid of fireworks and exceedingly difficult to categorise, in the best possible way. Just a collection of carefully crafted pieces designed to reward those patient enough to delve into Koselek’s unique musical landscapes.