Mark Kozelek Albums From Worst To Best

By Michael Nelson / June 12, 2012

Mark Kozelek is a prolific artist whose many musical identities sort of serve to hide just how goddamned deep his catalog actually runs. He spent more than a decade as the driving force behind Red House Painters before releasing work under his own name, and then, under the moniker Sun Kil Moon — his current (and best-known) incarnation.

Kozelek is also restless musician whose past is littered with abandoned sounds and styles; vocal and instrumental choices are regularly cast aside, frequently to the dismay of his insanely devoted fanbase. It’s been two decades since Red House Painters’ first release, Down Colorful Hill, and over those years, Kozelek has created a handful of beloved masterpieces whose only consistent element is the man at the microphone. Even that man’s voice has morphed; in Red House Painters’ 4AD days, Kozelek’s baritone plumbed murky depths to achieve a haunting otherworldly glow, but at some point, he shifted to a higher register, recalling (almost surely not coincidentally) Neil Young, one of Kozelek’s favorite artists.

Kozelek’s first two LPs under the Sun Kil Moon banner displayed robust instrumentation not unlike the final two Red House Painters albums, but 2010’s Admiral Fell Promises and the brand new Among The Leaves are spartan affairs, built almost exclusively around Kozelek’s voice and his nylon-string guitar. That approach may not be altered anytime soon. “I can’t afford to make Dark Side Of The Moon nor do I have the interest,” said Kozelek in a recent interview. “I’m 45 and I don’t have time to spend two years of my life bringing in producers and dragging the record around the planet. I’m always moving forward creatively and don’t like stalling, trying to find the perfect snare drum sound.”

Of course, for an artist with Kozelek’s track record, it’s hard to imagine any one configuration being employed for long — and where he goes next is, as always, anyone’s guess. So now, 20 years in, we’re lining up the man’s massive catalog end to end and ranking it, starting with his worst release and leading up to his best. (Remember, these are relative terms: Kozelek’s “worst” work is neither bad nor inessential, it’s only the “worst” in the context of his oeuvre.)

This isn’t a comprehensive list — most notably, it’s too early to pass judgment on Among The Leaves, so that’s missing. This also doesn’t take into account the Finally LP (an LP in name only; it would come in at 15 on this list), Kozelek’s MANY live albums (seriously approaching Pearl Jam territory here) or his from-the-sidelines work with the likes of Retribution Gospel Choir and Hannah Marcus, among others. Still, there are 14 albums here: a mighty sampling from one of the finest artists of his generation.

The countdown starts here.