Mark Kozelek is many things: prolific, tactless, at times ignorant. What Kozelek is not is subtle. Kozelek’s career has had something of a renaissance since 2014’s seminal album Benji, released under his Sun Kil Moon moniker, and alongside this resurgence has come a renewed ‘tell not show’ approach to songwriting. In Kozelek’s recent output, both solo and otherwise, this has been taken to extremes with his rambling songwriting and constant output, including two separate hour-long albums in 2018. I Also Want To Die In New Orleans is the next logical step in this era: a ninety-minute spoken-word album released about three months after his last ninety-minute spoken-word album.
Differences between New Orleans and 2018’s better This Is My Dinner are apparent even before jumping into the track-list. Kozelek enlisted the assistance of legendary saxophonist Donny McCaslin for this release and it would have seemed the lack of musicality present in 2018’s Sun Kil Moon releases would not be an issue here. However, what carried Mark’s releases from previous years, and much of his discography as a whole, was his storytelling ability which is notably absent on this release. Sun Kil Moon’s ability to bring the everyday mundane to personal depths has made them so endearing on previous records but this record’s obsession with detail has their stories falling flat. Too often Kozelek comes off as the drunk relative one has to suffer through at family occasions, such as where he talks about skunk spray on ‘Coyote’ or how good his mum’s chop suey is on ‘Cows.’ Worst of all, these ramblings often detract from the best musical moments on the album. ‘Couch Potato’ perhaps has some of the most potential on the album but Kozelek’s “Obama is just as bad as Trump” rant makes it hard to take seriously.
Ultimately, what made Sun Kil Moon’s music endearing before was that it tricked the listener. One would think the song was going nowhere and then it hit you with a gut punch. Even when the lyrics were more upfront with their banality, they still came from a place of sincerity and with an apparent consideration of the emotional link Mark wanted to create: a sense of tenderness. There are patches of that here – Mark’s plea to die before his girlfriend on ‘L-48’ is perhaps most notable. Unfortunately, these moments of actual connection are few and far between given as his mind seems to have lost all filter.
Image: Dirk Haun via Flickr