You could teach an entire class about Mark Kozelek. The San Francisco-via-Ohio native has been in the scene for thoughtful, numbing folk and rock ever since the 90s, where he led his band, The Red House Painters, through 6 albums up until 2001.
Admittedly, I never listened to that much of the band, but both his solo work and his work with Sun Kil Moon enough is a lot to digest. Anyone who’s heard Sun Kil Moon’s’ most acclaimed release, 2014’s Benji, can attest to his blunt, wordy, and poetic style of songwriting. Even more intense is his self-titled release last year, where the songs consist solely of guitar loops led by Mark’s diatribes about everything from talking with Ariel Pink at a festival to not recognizing his music being played in a coffee shop in the Bay Area.
So, after having been tossed into the Mark Kozelek universe for some time, I recently decided to give his work with the Red House Painters a chance. I had stumbled across the track “Cruiser” off the bands very last album, 2001’s Old Ramon, and instantly fell in love. The track, like many of his solo works, focuses on space and repetition, making it a patient yet trance-inducing listen. It’s elongated, melancholy folk rock (with more emphasis on the rock part), a perfect example of “road trip music”: hypnotic songs that are in no rush, but rather take their time fleshing out ideas and grooves. Coincidentally, the song’s lyrics are about driving around LA late at night, while missing someone back home.
Once you listen through the rest of Old Ramon, the magic of the band really starts to make itself clear. Right from the first track “Wop-A-Din-Din,” a love song dedicated to Mark’s cat, the band brings a relaxed and satisfying sound held together by acoustic guitar and Marks up-close singing. Other tracks like “Michigan” and “Golden” also integrate a folk/country influence, while tracks like “Between Days” and my personal favorite “Byrd Joel” radiate a rock energy that can keep you moving. Of course, as with Mark’s recent work, there are also long, slowly building ballads that are also perfect for long, pensive, sad-boi drives, such as “Void,” “Smokey,” and the incredible “River”
I guess all I really want to say is that it’s rare to find a 10 track, 70 minute long record where there’s not a single song you don’t love, where you can play it from start to finish every day in between classes and not get tired of it, where you are floored every listen by the way the band plays together, express so much emotion through nothing but the sound of guitar, bass and drums. The album, in case you couldn’t tell by now, has easily become one of my favorite recorders period, and it’s a great start into the worlds of the Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon, and the mastermind himself, Mark Kozelek. Give it a listen!
Listen to Old Ramon
Written by Tino Tirado