Mark Kozelek is the most unlikely polarizing figure of 2014. A pioneer in the slowcore movement with the incredible Red House Painters in the late 80’s through early 00’s, he continued exploring that sound with Sun Kil Moon and solo releases post 2001. The use of monikers has become almost interchangeable as the years have passed, as Kozelek has increasingly turned towards acoustic sounds made primarily by the nylon string guitar. Over the last 2 years he has shown signs of mixing things up, releasing 4 records that all are stunning in their own way – Like Rats (solo), Perils From the Sea (with Jimmy LaValle), Mark Kozelek & Desertshore (featuring members of Red House Painters), and Benji (Sun Kil Moon). It might take another band 9 years to produce such a diverse body of work, but Mark Kozelek managed to deliver haunting cover versions, slowcore anthems, electronic meditations on life, and life reaffirming acoustic revelries. 2014 also saw him engage in a gangsta rap style war of words with the band The War on Drugs resulting in the song War on Drugs Suck My Cock. It launched super serious (and SEO baiting) blogs on what the song actually meant, but I viewed it as a joke gone too far – and a funny, brilliant song with more F words than I’ve ever heard in an acoustic folk based song (as far as I can remember). So what does one do for an encore?
The Possum is a one-off single (as of right now). Digitally released in early December, the 10″ record will follow in early 2015 with exclusive b-side Cry Me a River Williamsburg Sleeve Tattoo Blues. The Possum features Steve Shelley from Sonic Youth on drums and lyrically fits in with Kozelek’s 2013-2014 output. The vocals on the tune follow the pattern established by recent Koz – talking / singing his way through the tune, sometimes double tracked. Emotionally, he gives it his all here. There are nylon string guitar breaks followed by spoken word interludes (maybe covering Genesis has made an impact on him). Lyrically, this is a strong story / song that concerns finding a dead possum in his yard, seeing the band Godflesh, eating pizza, and talking about life. The only part that doesn’t work 100% for me is when Kozelek talks about laughing at a joke and says they were “laughing and laughing”…28 times. That is more than made up for with the 2nd to last verse which has words that actually describe how I feel “I want to grow old and to walk my last walk / Knowing that I, too, gave it everything I got / But again it’s all roadblocks and all obstacles I fought / For to live another day is much better than to not”. He then follows up those words by bringing everything back to that dead possum and what everything means in the grand scheme of things. The sound fades out on acoustic instrumentation, a hymn for the dead possum.
The digital version of The Possum is out now and is available at all major digital retailers. The 10″ with the exclusive b-side will be out in the spring. You can also hear Mark Kozelek sing Christmas songs on the recently released Mark Kozelek Sings Christmas Carols. I can only wonder what 2015 has in store for Mark Kozelek and his fans.
Verdict: Haunting gem
For Fans of: The War on Drugs, John Fogerty, The Byrds, Fleetwood Mac, John Mellencamp