Mark Kozelek: On Tour: A Documentary—The Soundtrack (Caldo Verde)
The first part of Mark Kozelek’s career, as the front man of Red House Painters, could perhaps be summarized by the title of the Welsh band Mclusky’s debut album, My Pain and Sadness is More Sad and Painful Than Yours. Lyrically, Kozelek’s intensely moving songs can go to rare depths of profound sadness and self-deprecation; musically, there is a melancholic sheen applied by the wistful lumbering pace (a second cousin to its slowcore brethren) and earnest manner of Kozelek’s warm yet stark voice. One may wonder: Does Kozelek ever just sit down and watch an episode of “30 Rock”? Is he even capable of laughter? The recent documentary “On Tour” offers proof that Kozelek is more than a sad-sack caricature and can muster more than a few chuckles; one helpful soul even patched all the laughter bits together and uploaded the video to YouTube.
In the second half of Kozelek’s career, glimpses of a lighter demeanor are sometimes revealed with his outfit Sun Kil Moon. Although his moods can swing, and in recent years he just seems like he’s going for it by releasing a ton of material—three solo albums and one Sun Kil Moon album, the excellent Among the Leaves, in 2012 alone—making “prolific” the most prominent adjective that comes to mind when describing Kozelek now.
That might be one of the issues with the accompanying documentary soundtrack, a double album with live material recorded around the world, on stages and in hotels, plus a handful of studio tracks from previous releases. As a solo live performer, he has settled into a finger-picking style on nylon-string guitar. Coupled with his vocal sameness, the dearth of variation is a bit much to take, although there are exceptions, such as the flamenco-influenced “Heron Blue.”
As a whole, it will be overwhelming to all but the most obsessed fans, but absorbed in small bites the material is an honest glimpse and beautifully delivered, if slightly frustrating because of its uniformity.
Borbetomagus: Trente Belles Années (Agaric)
“You know that bit at the end of the Monterey concert where Hendrix sets his guitar on fire? That’s what we do. For a whole hour.”
That’s a quote from Donald Miller, guitarist for the trio Borbetomagus, and bravado aside, he’s not off the mark with his comment. With tenor saxophonists Jim Sauter and Don Dietrich rounding out the lineup, the improvisational group is known for making sustained, punishing, impossibly intense walls of sound, combining noise with free jazz attitudes. The band’s latest release, Trente Belles Années, documents a 2009 show at Instants Chavirés in Montreuil, France. It was actually the final concert of the band’s European tour marking its 30th anniversary—indeed, its motto is “Changing lives since 1979,” the band having emerged in the post-punk/no-wave era alongside contemporaries such as Sonic Youth.
Like an air show, this live recording is a deafening demonstration of power, and it may appeal not only to noise and extreme free-jazz fans, but also those with a taste for metal. The album is a continuous 46-minute blast with, by this writer’s estimation, merely a one-second respite in the middle with dramatic near-silence. However, as loud and overblown as it is, it’s not a monolith—ironically, one needs to listen carefully to hear a stream of moments balanced precariously, with the saxes teeter-tottering between squeals and overdriven fuzz and Miller’s damaged guitar sounds giving way to sheets of white noise. It’s dense but not impenetrable; every minute is different from the last, with glissandos, ghostly warbling, echoing and sonic disintegration.
It would be hard to deny that most listeners would probably be immediately repulsed by this beast of an album, which is fine. Some may even think that noise fans like it because others don’t. But this critic believes that it’s not as cerebral as that—it’s an instant love-or-hate reaction. If a humongous tidal wave is coming, most people would run, but some would think, “Hey, I should try to surf that thing,” being nourished by chaos and power.