Reviewed by Alex Daniel.
Imagine that, for almost two decades, you’ve played slow, quiet music. And this isn’t just typical downtempo stuff. We’re talking almost unbearably slow and quiet. Sure, you kick out a few distorted solos here and there. But for the most part, you are the king of slow. The kingdom of music criticism even crowns you with your own genre—slowcore.
How would you make the world think you’d made a musical 180? If you are San Francisco’s Mark Kozelek, slowcore veteran formerly of the Red House Painters and currently of Sun Kil Moon, the answer is not to play faster and louder, but to play quieter.
Since the release of Sun Kil Moon’s Admiral Fell Promises on July 13, many music critics have heralded the album as a profound shift in Kozelek’s exhaustive career. And in some senses, it is. Gone are the gentle, fluttering drums and entrancing, reverberated guitar lines that defined past Sun Kil Moon albums. Admiral Fell Promises features nothing but Kozelek’s downtrodden vocals and a nylon six-string.
But in truth, Kozelek is no stranger to stripped-down releases. Take a spin through any of his countless official bootlegs or his AC/DC and Modest Mouse cover albums, and you’ll hear something similar to Admiral—just a man and his guitar.
Still, if not a profoundly different album, this has to be Kozelek’s most elegant. From the subtle flamenco flourishes of “Alesund” to the Celtic overtones of “Australian Winter,” the fingerpicking on Admiral reveals a studied classical guitarist. And the extended codas that close songs like “Bay of Skulls” make the album sound less like a bunch of mopey singer/songwriter ballads and more like an epic collection of seven-minute compositions.
Of course, the album still gets pretty mopey, and it wouldn’t be a Sun Kil Moon album if it didn’t. “Sam Wong Hotel” sees the reappearance of the late lover that Kozelek has pined over since the first Red House Painters album. “Katherine drifts again/Into my mind/Freezing the tide/She visits me still,” he sings. But on other songs, he moves past heartbreak to craft some truly distinctive verse. “Third and Seneca” in particular manages to capture the essence of various U.S. destinations with just a few short phrases, like “Blood orange L.A./Blood-red Arizona.”
Slow? Yes. Different? Not entirely. But Admiral Fell Promises is a stunning addition to an already breathtaking catalog.
Sun Kil Moon | Admiral Fell Promises | Caldo Verde | Available Now | Rating: 8 of 10