A Rambling Mess with Hints of Construction
Slowcore is far from the every man’s genre, though it often contains the every man story. Essentially breaking off, as a shard, from folk music, slowcore has captivated or bored audiences since its major beginnings at the hands of Red House Painters, a group that once contained Mark Kozelek (aka Sun Kil Moon). The most notable element of slowcore is its almost poetic quality, a strange rambling beatnik style that will frequently feature the singer spouting off endlessly with his heart bare for observation by the audience — a feature that Sun Kil Moon has used to great effect on albums like Benji and Universal Themes. This has become both a beloved and hated feature of Kozelek’s music and, on his most recent collaboration with Jesu, 30 Seconds to the Decline of Planet Earth, even the latter musician’s more interesting musical components cannot completely cure the incoherent rambling of Sun Kil Moon.
Whether or not one enjoys any of the non-Benji output of Sun Kil Moon is due almost entirely to the level of seriousness with which they interpret the music. It is often best viewed in an almost Father John Misty light of satire and dark humor, where taking something serious is a laughable matter in and of itself. In “Wheat Bread,” Kozelek rants about everything from his dislike of wheat bread to his upsetting interaction with a millennial cashier who was making a false attempt at being friendly. This is pretty standard fare for Kozelek, who often launches into long, loosely-connected tirades, sometimes to great effect. This album sadly manages to jump the shark in many regards — most notably on the song “He’s Bad,” which is entirely a systematic breakdown of how he does not believe Michael Jackson is innocent of molestation charges, but rather believes that he is a deplorable human being who made good music. The song is upsetting for more than a few reasons, but perhaps most of all because he walks back his opinions multiple times. While clearly intended to make it seem that he is taking a measured approach, Kozelek just restates what every listener has already heard about the king of pop hundreds of times over.
One slight improvement from his previous elements is the use of instrumentation with Jesu. Jesu (formerly of Godflesh) creates far more interesting soundscapes and atmospheres than Sun Kil Moon does on his own. This is noticeable on songs like “The Greatest Conversation Ever in the History of the Universe” and “Needles Disney,” which feature unique twinkling noises and a general increase in the type of instruments used. This often helps offset the use of repetition in each song and serves to mitigate the rambling — though “Bombs” still falls victim when Kozelek repeats the same word over and over with various versions of him mumbling in the background, creating a maddening chorus of single words and incomprehensible speech. Fortunately, one of the funnier moments on the album also comes at the end of “Bombs” when someone calls into the studio and lets Kozelek know he is going a little long on this song, showing his still somewhat-intact self-awareness.
This is not the album to start on Sun Kil Moon. One would have a much better time with Jesu/Sun Kil Moon, Benji or Universal Themes. As time has progressed, audiences have pushed Kozelek to be more and more open and less caring about the words pouring out of his mouth on each track; the result is a rambling, uncontained mess that far too often lacks the humor of his overlong Common as Light and Love are Red Valleys of Blood, which has been one of the most interesting albums of 2017. Sadly, not all albums can be masterpieces even when created by one of the most talented active artists, and audiences would be better suited to continue listening to the aforementioned records rather than move on to this one for too long.