- SPONSORED -
A staple feature of Kozelek as a man, not just a musician, is that he is unapologetically frank about his thoughts and feelings — regardless of how they can be taken. Over the last three years of mainstream popularity he’s offended more than his fair share of people in the industry, including feminist reviewers, by calling a music journalist a “bitch” who wants to have his babies, and fans of The War On Drugs for telling them to “suck my cock” and then writing a song about it. Some editors have even taken to boycotting his music.
Kozelek’s creative breakthrough Benji, released in 2014, focused entirely on mortality, the fragility of human life, and loss — whether that was friends, distant relatives he never knew, or those he’s never met, such as victims of the mass shootings in Sandy Hook. On first listening to the album, it frequently brought me to tears due to its extreme lyrical honesty. This new spoken word style of songwriting Mark was honing was completely devoid of metaphor and meant to be taken at face value; a far cry from the poetic stylings used previously in Among the Leaves (2012) and Admiral Fell Promises (2010).
Ignoring last year’s releases, the epic 130-minute double album Common as Light and Love feels like the most natural progression of Benji. Kozelek speaks mostly about personal experiences, and songs are filled with digressions about David Bowie, politics, and meeting Owen Wilson at a friend’s place over lunch. If you’re not used to it, Mark’s spoken word storytelling comes across as rambly and without direction, but they are all featured with purpose. In listening closer there are a lot of interconnected themes and stories, which move in and out of his songs like a shifting tide.
For example “Early June Blues” starts about the love for his partner, before moving into how affected he was after the death of Muhammed Ali. The next song “Bergen to Trondheim” is about gun violence in America and stirs up the Ali topic again, turning his two-word poem “Me, We” into the main hook of the song and an anthem for policy change. Kozelek does this multiple times over the album and some themes even carried through from Benji, particularly his love of true crime and thoughts on “why is the world simultaneously so beautiful and a pile of shit?”
The musical arrangements on this album are a definite shift from Kozelek’s folk range that long-standing fans will have become so accustomed to, but still within the realms of the experimentation we’ve come to expect. Instead of fingerstyle guitar, music on this album is heavily driven by droning basslines on tracks like “Sarah Lawrence College Song”, or carried by repetitive synth loops and drums like on “Chili Lemon Peanuts”.
Some timing and mid-song style changes take you completely off guard, like the bass and drum beat on “Highway Song” where Kozelek sings about driving to Sacramento, mentioning his love of “old west stuff” before breaking into quiet fingerpicking guitar and telling an 1851 true crime story.
This album as a whole is an engrossing and challenging amalgamation of varying musical styles and detailed stories. Even at 130 minutes, I felt it only dragged at a couple points — a huge feat by any standards. If you’re unfamiliar with Mark Kozelek, he is undoubtedly one of the greatest living songwriters and most prolific indie/folk guitarists; this album helps to prove it.