Legislation and sausages. These are the things we’re not supposed to see made, lest we become too grossed out to enjoy them… but I’m not convinced. One of my good friends has gone on several tours of Smithfield meat packing facilities, and that dude still cooks one helluva pork butt. Hell, he cooked an entire pig last 4th of July, and from what I can remember (we started
drinking cooking at like 5 something in the morning, and the pig was on the grill for a solid 12 hours), it was delicious!
In some ways, live music fits with that tired legislation/sausage axiom. The artist walks out onstage, the show happens, the crowd cheers, the artist disappears, the crowd goes home, and (excepting the superfans who travel with the band or try to get backstage) that’s that. There’s safety in that routine. Most concertgoers get to remember performers as conquering heroes who walked offstage to lusty applause, not as regular people who get heckled sometimes and feel lonely on the road.
But Sun Kil Moon’s beautiful new album, Among the Leaves, pulls back the curtain on Mark Kozelek’s life as a touring musician, with a bluntness that rivals a stroll through a Smithfield kill floor (yes, I most certainly am proud of having worked “beautiful” and “kill floor” into the same sentence).
And while some of the subjects tackled in its lyrics are enough to give even the most understanding label exec a heart attack (disappointing shows, STD’s, and the lack of racial diversity in Denmark, just to name a few), I’m not repulsed in the least. In fact, the album is extremely engaging — magnetic, even. Take the second track, “Sunshine In Chicago.” In the second half of the song, Kozelek decries the gender imbalance in his fanbase, longing for the 1990’s when his previous band, Red House Painters, “had lots of female fans/and fuck, they all were cute.” The following line about signing posters for “guys in tennis shoes” should be off-putting, but I can’t help but be drawn in by its frankness. And I’ve definitely been one of those dudes who gets stuff signed at shows. Recently.
His willingness to demolish the pleasantry-laden fourth wall that hovers between the mysterious, successful performer and the audience is intoxicating, as are his calm, measured delivery and soothing, arpeggiated guitar work. All this creates a conversational safe zone where anything goes, like the last 30 minutes of a delirious, late-night-into-early-morning bitch session on the front porch with your best friend. Just pure, unvarnished emotional honesty. For Pete’s sake, he talks about getting an STD in multiple songs. I haven’t had this much fun hearing about that kinda thing since Ol’ Dirty Bastard died.
It’s enough to make you wonder how other artists hold this stuff back when writing songs, given how prominently travel and fan interactions figure in their lives. When I think of it that way, I’m so glad Kozelek decided let us in, and I highly recommend you join the late-night front porch conversation by giving Among the Leaves a listen. Sample two of the album’s songs below and buy it on iTunes here.