I’ve read and written a lot about Mark Kozelek (of Sun Kil Moon and Red House Painters fame) in my life, and spent a good deal more of that time listening to his music — I’m not exactly an obsessive fan of the guy, but if you and I talked in detail about my one-way relationship with Mark Kozelek over the past 20 years, you’d probably walk away thinking I was an obsessive fan. Point being: My perspective is admittedly skewed, but the important thing is, I’m making it clear upfront so that when I ask the question that will follow this disclaimer, you understand it’s a product of genuine curiosity, not disrespect. It may sound like I’m making light of Mark Kozelek’s music here, but I assure you, I am not/ would not/ could not. When people ask me to name my favorite artist of all time, Kozelek is the go-to answer. But because of all that, I’m too close to the subject to put him into any sort of appropriate context. So I’m asking this because I need the perspective of someone who is not me:
Why is Mark Kozelek releasing another album of covers?
Because here I am, I’ve been with the dude since ’92, and he’s not doing this for me. I say this as a huge fan of Tiny Cities, mind you. Heck, I say this as someone who insisted on Kozelek’s cover of Genesis’s “Follow You, Follow Me” as the first-dance song at his wedding. I love Kozelek’s covers. But for some reason, I just can’t get excited about more of them. The new collection — the one we’re talking about today, Like Rats — is a little different than his other covers projects insofar as it includes songs by a batch of punk and metal bands (Dayglo Abortions, Bad Brains, Misfits, Descendents, Godflesh, Danzig), along with Koz’s old prog faves Genesis and Yes, and a handful of other weirdos (Bruno Mars, Josh Turner, Ted Nugent). And yeah, you probably didn’t think a Bruno Mars song and a Godflesh song could be reinvented so that they sound really similar to one another. But you also don’t need to hear Koz do “I Got You Babe” to know exactly how it’s gonna sound: weary, spare, bleak, full of new emotional resonance and heartbreaking darkness. And that’s a gift, man, to be able to bring that to a song. But he’s been doing this for so long now — it goes back to the Red House Painters’ second self-titled ’93 LP, with “Star Spangled Banner” and “I Am A Rock” on it, as well as the Shock Me EP that followed that album, which included two devastating versions of the Ace Frehley-penned title track — that it’s all starting to sound the same at this point. To me. It’s all starting to sound the same to me. But again, this record is not for me; Mark Kozelek is not doing this for me.
But why is he doing it? With whom is he trying to connect? What is he trying to communicate? Is he successful? Are you, potential listener, able to feel the full weight of these songs, be moved by them, crushed by them?
I dunno, man. I’m come off sounding exactly like the obsessive I claimed not to be, so I’d better shut it down. In a week I’ll probably be telling you this is my favorite album of the year. Pitchfork is streaming Like Rats in its entirety right now, and you should listen to it, because it is sad and beautiful, and even if Mark Kozelek has been doing this for a while, no one else has, or is, or can.
Like Rats tracklist:
01. “I” (Bad Brains)
02. “Like Rats” (Godflesh)
03. “Free-For-All” (Ted Nugent)
04. “Young Girls” (Bruno Mars)
05. “Right Back Where We Started From” (Maxine Nightingale)
06. “Time Is Love” (Josh Turner)
07. “Silly Girl” (Descendents)
08. “Onward” (Yes)
09. “Carpet Crawlers” (Genesis)
10. “13” (Danzig)
11. “Green Hell” (Misfits)
12. “I Killed Mommy” (Dayglo Abortions)
13. “I Got You Babe” (Sonny & Cher)