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  • Mark Kozelek - What's Next To The Moon
14. Mark Kozelek - What's Next To The Moon (2001): Even in 2001, rearranging unlikely source material into something devastating was well-covered ground for Kozelek -- he had given such treatment to songs by Genesis, The Cars, John Denver, Kiss, Yes and others at that point -- so for fans, his choice to record an entire album of Bon Scott-era AC/DC material wasn't exactly a shock. But even at a scant 10 songs over 30 minutes, What's Next To The Moon seems to drag. The lyrics occasionally feel ironic rather than revelatory, and the vocal and instrumental arrangements lack the dynamics that make Kozelek's best work so moving.

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.

Comments (27)
  1. Thanks for putting Tiny Cities in a fairly respectable position. It’s a bit of a strange album concept-wise, and it seems like no-one really gave it a chance, especially after the Pitchfork review, but it’s definitely solid.

    • As a huge Modest Mouse fan, Tiny Cities was my introduction to his work. I can’t think of many musicians as capable of taking another work and moulding into something new and completely their own. I Am A Rock off Rollercoaster is another particularly beautiful example.

      • Shoot, it was on Bridge wasn’t it. I so should’ve remembered that.

        • Yoko, I was disappointed by Pitchfork’s Tiny Cities review — it seemed to treat the project as sacrilege or something — but I remember other outlets being more open to the album. In any case, I return to that album even now. It is strange but spectacular IMO.

          Alex, my favorite Kozelek cover is his version of Genesis’ “Follow You Follow Me” from the compilation Shanti Project Collection. Fun (useless) fact: My wife and I danced to that song at our wedding!

          • nice. i lobbied for “gentle moon” as a first dance, but then i read somewhere that the lyrics were in part inspired by 9/11. so “tupelo honey” it was. sorry koz.

            and regarding tiny cities, the cover of “trucker’s atlas” is amazing. just thought i’d throw that out there.

          • Good to know I’m not the only Koz fan who pressed his fiance on this issue! “Tupelo Honey” is more-than-worthy stand-in.

            Agreed on “Trucker’s Atlas.” If I remember correctly, that was the first MM song he performed live (and thus the one that kicked off the idea for Tiny Cties), but I may be wrong.

  2. A fine list, but I couldn’t possibly put Ocean Beach ahead of Down Colorful Hill (or at #1 for that matter), or Tiny Cities ahead of What’s Next to the Moon (which SHOULDN’T be last).

  3. Great recap, I’ve heard most of these, but as a guy who started at Ghosts of the Great Highway I lean towards Sun Kil Moon rather than Red House Painters (with the exception of Songs for a Blue Guitar): those two are 1 and 2 for me: in fact, I wrote an post once about how I think Ghosts should have been included in the book 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die. I think you’ve made a great list and will have to reacquaint myself with some of these.

  4. I’m sorry, but Admiral Fell Promises is easily the best. And Tiny Cities is just as bad as p4k said it is. That’s right, I’m saying that pitchfork was accurate for once

    But hey, opinions.

    • Mark, do you prefer Admiral Fell Promises to Among The Leaves?

      • Yeah absolutely. Im not shitting on any the guys music, but Admiral Fell Promises is seriously in my top 20 favorite albums. Among The Leaves, I cannot get into. I do like the sort of self referential stuff he does on it though.

    • I’m with you on this. Admiral Fell Promises is Kozelek at his purest and most beautiful. I disagree about Tiny Cities though, what would Pitchfork know?

  5. I can agree with this list from top to bottom. My only criticism is about Kozelek’s recent work — I really wish the new Sun Kil Moon material would contain more full-on band arrangements (although I thoroughly enjoy Among the Leaves, which only has glimmers of that.) He’s lovely when he’s quiet and barebones, but the songs of Red House Painters just make you want to fall in love at the Santa Monica pier or on the Pacific Coast Highway.

  6. What about the Finally LP? Maybe not an album but it’s such a good collection it deserves making the list.

    • As I said in my intro, Finally would be at 15 on this list. Of course it should be owned, and it has some very strong moments, but to me there’s not much to say about it — it feels inconsequential in comparison to anything else here.

  7. I really need to listen to more of Mr. Kozelek’s work. Songs for a Blue Guitar is an all-time favorite and no other song puts as big a lump in my throat as Have You Forgotten.

  8. One of my favorite articles I’ve read on Stereogum. I’m a longtime Koz fan, so to see a countdown list of his albums accompanied by knowledgable and eloquent explanations/descriptions is a treat. It’s obvious this was created with careful thought and deliberation.

  9. Great to see Ocean Beach on top, one of my favorite albums ever and Kozelek’s most accomplished work, in my view. Had never seen it recognized as a highlight and if I remember correctly it was mostly recieved as a disappointment at the time. I would have it up there with Laughing Stock and Five Leaves Left in the League of beautiful and delicate acoustic music with incredible singing and songwriting.

  10. really enjoyed looking at this list…when i got to number two i was thinking ‘what the hell can be number one?’ i’d forgotten about ocean beach for a second. i have to say i never connected with ocean beach quite in the way i did with the other rhp albums bar bridge. but i dunno, what can i say: i think his voice is incredibly beautiful, and since i first heard down colorful hill i’ve loved his stuff. i’ve always been amazed at how people either love him or hate him. i can’t see how anyone could dislike him hehehe. the songs are so beautiful, even if he is, to some, a miserable git. anyway: i have favourite songs from all the records, from michael to third and seneca and now young love: but his most consistently beautiful album? gawd: so tricky…ghosts of the great highway i think….followed by songs for a blue guitar… admiral fell promises continues to grow though. i loved among the leaves at first in fact, but it doesn’t seem to be a grower like the rest of the mighty koz…feels somehow shallower. only time will tell though wahey. okay, enough from me! thanks for the article.

  11. Considering all those 14 album covers, Mark Kozelek’s favorite color can’t be no other than Sepia.

  12. Admiral Fell Promises is a masterpiece. I couldn’t really take this list seriously after seing that put below lesser efforts such as Tiny Cities and the Shock Me ep. Are you serious!?!?

  13. theres alot of hype on here about admirals fell and while its amazing with his nylon string guitar, the darkness and power of April i believe is untouchable. Plus you have the band and backing support from Wil Oldham and Ben Gibbard to name a few……

  14. In the beginning, reverb and other effects were used to hide Mr. Kozelek’s voice and quell his own insecurities about it. Now, albums are increasingly confident in a way that I’m not such a fan of.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love his voice. The obnoxious thing is that he seems to as well. Where interesting instrumentation and melodies used to be, there is only an old man talking about being an old man. These new albums are so indulgent. What happened?

    I’d also like to point out that I’ve been a huge fan of RHP and SKM for 15 years or so, but this vocal masturbation that started in the early 2000′s has to stop at some point and return to full-fledged band arrangements. I hope.

  15. Having gone on a Kozelek binge recently, my favorite is probably between April, Ghosts of the Great Highway, and Songs for a Blue Guitar, though I’m not the biggest fan of long distorted jams like Duk Koo Kim or Make Like Paper.

    Favorite Kozelek tunes: Have You Forgotten, Pancho Villa, Priest Alley Song, I Feel the Rain Fall, Lucky Man, Japanese to English, Carry Me Ohio, New Jersey (both versions), Sunshine in Chicago, Unlit Hallway.

    Favorite Covers: Ocean Breathes Salty, Neverending Math Equation, Trucker’s Atlas, I Am A Rock.

  16. Great list. Ghosts of the Great Highway has such incredible songs on it that I think it deserves No 1 spot though. Duk Koo Kim and Carry me, Ohio are such timeless classics I can listen to them again and again and still be touched and moved.

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