Unexpected. This is how Mark Kozelek‘s brand new work “Common as light and love are red valleys of blood” has been mostly defined since its release on February 17th. As a matter of fact, most people and even Kozelek’s long run fans got literally shocked when first heard his new unconventional album.
Should they be blamed? Actually not.
“Common as light and love are red valleys of blood” is what french would call a “coupe de théatre” in his harried but still successful music carrier both for its absolutely anti-melodic musical structure and its breathtaking length.
If you buy the record, what you’ll find is a more than 2 hours’ offhanded, irrepressible stream of consciousness flowing across 16 tracks of which you barely catch when one ends and another one begins, as if Kozelek really didn’t want each of them to be different “songs” in a traditional way and strongly forced himself trying (unsuccessfully) not to get too far from what a record should sound like. And the result is that it really can’t be easily classified as such: no refrain nor organized verses, no rhymes nor bridges.
It is funny how it almost seems like Sun Kil Moon‘s founder already knew how people and critics would have replied to this and so tried to introduce it gradually in order to minimize the shock: in fact, the first track “God bless Ohio” sounds quite familiar in his acoustic guitar line arpeggio in the background which reminds of Benji‘s melancholic feel and makes you kind of comfortable in its mumbling rhythms.
However, you could compare it to a personal diary which opens and speaks itself: a travel diary that slowly swallows you up and drives you back in time and space, showing shattered, blurry images of Kozelek‘s old memories as a child, slobby worries about present and future, disconnected scraps of considerations about nowadays life.
And so, just right as if you were reading down the lines, now you actually get the feeling you are following him inside his car through the sunny, peaceful and wild Ohio, alias Kozelek’s homeland (“God bless Ohio”); then you find yourself in a “Scenic drive from Auburn to Diamond Springs/American River sparkles under the bridge on this fine day of spring/To the left Sutter’s Fort where they discovered gold to the right rolling vineyards and apple orchards” (“Chili Lemon Peanuts”).
In “Philadelphia cop“ Kozelek’s disillusioned and sarcastic view of our times emerges in contrast to a not clearly defined past in the explicit evidence of the absurdity of today’s life, underlining the nearly grotesque superficiality of modern society. Mark references to Donald Trump, David Bowie and 2016’s facts, terrorism, weapons, the shallowness of the music industry, the frightening power of technology over people’s mind, the hallucinating American dream stand out along most of the following tracks, while a more emotional and nostalgic atmosphere reigns in “I love Portugal”, “Stranger than paradise” and ” I love you forever and beyond eternity”.
Apart from this sweeter sentimental gap, the whole work is pervaded by the sometimes detached, pensive, actually obsessive, bewildering Kozelek’s voice, which matching with an awkward, definitely uncomfortable musical background seems impossible to blow over, just as if he eventually couldn’t keep himself from setting his mind free from the huge amount of thoughts he had held inside for too much time.
To sum up: “Common as light and love are red valleys of blood” is what of more intimate and authentic an artist can give to his public, and to denigrate it would be at the very least a disrespect not only towards Mark Kozelek (who even knowing that his own true inner reality would have not surely been an easy sell bravely followed his own path), but towards music as an art itself.