It’s night, and The Artist is alone in his home. It’s quiet and still, and the open windows let in a slight breeze weighed down by the after hours noise of San Francisco—cars passing, the ocean waves rolling, et. al.
The Artist sits at his desk; in front of him is a computer monitor. On the screen is an opened .zip file called “Beat Tape 2,” sent over by Justin Broadrick; to his left are stacks and stacks of notebooks, each one filled from cover to cover, page after page of great detail on mundane observations from his day-to-day life.
There are moments when he becomes self-aware, and worries the notebooks begin to resemble those kept by Kevin Spacey’s character in the movie Se7en.
He lets those moments of self-awareness pass, however, and continues jotting down everything that occurs from the moment he wakes in the morning until he goes to bed.
To his right, on the desk, are scraps of paper with attempted song lyrics scrawled on them. One toward the top of the pile reads: “What happened, Ian? I thought you were true blue. You gave me that motherfucking nine point two.“
On the floor next to his desk are unopened cardboard boxes of compact discs—a record called Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood. Next to these unopened containers is a box of ULINE bubble mailers. The Artist had hoped he’d have some orders to fill this evening, but none have been placed. There are moments when he becomes self-aware, and worries that the less than kind reviews the record received from places like Pitchfork and Consequence of Sound have hurt his numbers. He reads the things that are said about him on the Sad Reminders forum, and he thinks maybe he’s alienating his audience.
He lets those moments of self-awareness pass, however.
“If you don’t like this song, or what I have to say, then fuck off and listen to ‘Bye Bye Miss American Pie,’ cuz it’s from my heart,” The Artist says, out loud, to no one. He takes a breath in, and realizes just how good that phrase is, and he writes it down on a sheet of paper.
He hopes that the sales of the record once it is pressed on vinyl will be slightly more to his liking.
He returns to the computer, and opens up another .mp3 from Justin’s beat tape. Something skittering, based around echoing high E guitar strings, plays from the speakers. The Artist gets up from the desk and begins to slowly shuffle around the room. He’s “feeling it”; he raises his hands up over his head as he awkwardly moves in time with the music. He’s careful, though. He’s too old to move like this. He doesn’t want to throw out his back again.
Behind him, there’s a large bulletin board; the kind you see on police procedurals, where the lead detective in a major case begins to put the pieces together—tacking up photos and maps and other bits of evidence. On The Artist’s board, he has a map of Raleigh, North Carolina, a promotional still of The War on Drugs, a drawing of Pikachu he printed off of the internet, a picture of Laura Snapes that he occasionally throws darts at, an image of Michael Jackson that he drew Xs over the eyes on, and a photo he took at one of his own concerts—the pudgy, ugly, loners in the front row, wearing their god damn tennis shoes and their god damn western shirts.
He lets out an exasperated sigh.
Morning will arrive soon for The Artist, and he has a full day at the studio booked with his engineer. Outside of his meandering and pointless journal entries, The Artist wonders what else he could write a song about. “Think Koz, think,” he says, out loud, to no one.
He zeroes in on the photo of his fans, and he yet again descends into a moment of self-awareness. “If it weren’t for them—those fucking losers—I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he thinks.
This moment of self-awareness lingers for longer than he is comfortable with, as he stares at the bulletin board and his tired, old eyes begin to lose focus. Everything blurs.
He hears another car drive by outside his open window.
* * *
In February 2016, I was not in a good place.
I was working a job that I was beginning to have nothing but disdain for, and the stress was beginning to take its toll on me mentally, as well as physically. During this stretch of time, I was barely capable of generating content for my own music blog, and barely able to keep up with the magazine column I write. Truthfully, getting out of bed was a feat of strength, so the idea of writing a review of the first Sun Kil Moon and Jesu collaborative album for this site was out of the question completely.
But I wasn’t too concerned: writer Brandon Perras covered it very well.
But now it is May 2017, and I am in a slightly better place, and the idea of writing content for my own site, as well as this one, is not as daunting.
So here I am, hunkered down with yet another release from Mark fucking Kozelek / Sun Kil Moon.
The second Sun Kil Moon and Jesu collaborative album and the charmingly optimistic and clunkily titled 30 Seconds to The Decline of Planet Earth follows suite with Kozelek’s just released shit show, Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood—meaning a) it is fucking awful, but b) it is yet another cut and paste affair that barely resembles coherent music, and is, overall, another insult to the listener.
On Common as Light, Kozelek and company created long, improvised, instrumental jams that he later edited down and then talked over the top of. Here, he is relying on Godflesh and Jesu’s Justin Broadrick to supply the music that he then uses as the soundtrack for his many pontifications.
The issue (well, one of the issues) with Common as Light is that Kozelek, now abandoning his finger plucked, nylon string guitar, has started to favor instruments he is less capable at—like the bass, or synthesizers, et. al. So musically, the album was incredibly stunted and chintzy sounding. With Broadrick supplying everything but the words, 30 Seconds is, at the very least, more listenable, strictly speaking to its music.
Broaderick comes from a very heavy background—just try listening to Godflesh if you’ve never done so.
With Jesu, the project he’s helmed for over a decade, he’s mellowed out a little bit, but still has metal inclinations at times. Due to that, his first collaboration with Kozelek had some hard and heavy moments, but on 30 Seconds, that’s all pretty much gone.
Broaderick crafts a number of synth heavy beats that come off like a less accessible version of The Postal Service—the hypnotic darkness of “You Are Me and I Am You” or “Needles Disney” are two examples of where 30 Seconds to The Decline of Planet Earth is, musically speaking, tolerable.
Lyrically, however, well… you can guess where this is going.
Mark fucking Kozelek, huh?
It seems like we are having difficulties stopping him at this point, as he continues to reject nostalgia for his first band, the Red House Painters (and even for the early days of Sun Kil Moon) as he buys into his own recent mythology by churning out album after album of flaming, self-important garbage.
There’s a moment on this album when Kozelek attacks Michael Jackson. It seems strange and unprompted, seeing as how Jackson has been dead since 2009; and, also because seven years ago, he covered The Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There,” on an EP.
However, on “He’s Bad,” Kozelek discusses a conversation he had with someone in an airport w/r/t the 2016 reports that there was child pornography and animal torture videos found at the Neverland complex.
Kozelek professes he is glad Jackson is dead—and at the end of the first “verse” of the song, he just proceeds to ad-lib “blah blah blah blah blah blah, whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa,” for, like, a really long time.
That kind of disinterested “lyric writing” sums of Kozelek’s approach to this album, as well as everything else he’s released in recent memory—and, I mean what is the point in me even trying to elaborate on this or critique it again? It’s same god damn garbage I’ve been talking about every time my fingers touch the keyboard and Koz’s name is on my tongue, and I am aware that I’ve been writing the same review of his music over and over again.
On the staggering, 17-minute manifesto “Wheat Bread,” he recounts an exchange with a rare female fan on the street, he elaborates on an ill-fated three-way he had in Florida, how awful it is conversing with people at SXSW, the difference between Jack Johnson the boxer and Jack Johnson the musician, and how much he hates child predators, among other subjects.
On “Bombs,” he gripes about sluggish European ticket sales while regaling us with insightful lyrics like, “Bombs bombs bombs bombs going off off off off off off.”
On “Twenty Something,” he blurs the line between good-natured ribbing and insulting a fan—musician and author Johnny Saint-Lethal.
On “Hello Chicago,” he recounts asking John Hughes (yes that John Hughes) for the money to make Songs For A Blue Guitar.
But it’s not all insipid details of an insipid life; on “Needles Disney” he recalls a trip to the amusement park with an addict; on the album’s nearly majestic sounding closing track, “A Dream of Winter,” he reflects on time passing and the end of another year.
As polarizing as his canon has been over the last few years, the consensus from both non-believers and Mark Kozelek apologizsts is that Broadrick’s arrangements on 30 Seconds to The Decline of Planet Earth have “softened” the edge to Kozelek’s spoken word vocal performances. And to an extent, they are right. However, that doesn’t mean this is something that I want to, or that you should want to, pollute your ears with.
Mark Kozelek is old (50); he’s tired, and his body ain’t what it used to be.
He’ll never let you forget these thing; rather than dressing up observations and recollections in fragmented imagery and poetics, he’s the curmudgeonly everyman, and it is an act that, while some find novel, continues to wear on my last god damn nerve.
Some may wonder, “Gee Kevin, you know Mark Kozelek is going to release another album you’ll hate. Why do you do this to yourself?” Is it simply so I can write 1,800+ words of vitriol for Bearded Gentlemen Music so my piece will get more clicks than if I publish it on my own site? Is it because I have some kind of bone to pick with him? Is it because I’m a pudgy ugly dude in tennis shoes and a western shirt who still clings to his copy of Songs For A Blue Guitar? Is it because I am some kind of glutton for punishment who is so unhappy with his own station in life that he feels compelled to shit on someone else?
I let these moments of self-awareness pass.
Rating: 0.25 out of 5
30 Seconds to The Decline of Planet Earth arrives (on CD) via Kozelek’s own vanity imprint on May 5.
Kevin Krein is a Minnesota based writer, and has been operating the award winning music blog Anhedonic Headphones since January 2013. For nearly as long, he has been an occasional contributor to Bearded Gentlemen Music. From December 2013 until its the summer of 2017, he wrote “The Bearded Life” column for the Southern Minn Scene magazine, and from the summer of 2017, until the fall of 2018, wrote “The Column of Disquiet” for The Next Ten Words. His writing also regularly appears in The Wagazine and in River Valley Woman. At the beginning of 2019, he launched the all new Anhedonic Headphones podcast, which you may subscribe to in such legitimate outlets as iTunes and Google Play.
He is a vegan, a friend to all animals, and a huge jerk toward most people.