Common As Light And Love Are Red Valleys Of Blood, Sun Kil Moon’s new double album, is Mark Kozelek’s attempt to understand events that happened in the summer of 2016. If you had forgotten how many terrorist attacks, shootings and deaths of iconic celebrates occurred, this album is on hand to remind you. The Bastille day attack gets its own song and shootings in Florida, murders in Ohio and the deaths of both David Bowie and Prince are all mentioned. Consequently, it is almost relentlessly bleak. When is Kozelek giving us flashbacks to the most depressing news reports from the summer of 2016 he remains morbid with comments and anecdotes on middle age and the oncoming inevitability of death. The first half of Vague rock song moves away from this with its sarcastic criticism of mainstream rock music, however, even this plunges back into bleakness among Kozelek’s claims that he cannot sing a vague rock song whilst the world is such as messed up place.
This cocktail of depression is presented in the form of a stream of consciousness. Due to this a quirk of this album is that it sounds suspiciously similar to an audio book of Kozelek’s diary played randomly as if your iPod got stuck on shuffle and played it by accident. As well as this there is a tendency towards long anecdotes about people such as the entire song Butch Lullaby and reading of letters from promoters both of which could be done without. However, this format does offer the always entertaining opportunity for Psychoanalysis. What this reveals is someone who is grasping at straws to understand what is going on in the world. Blame is allocated to the easy scapegoat of the internet and technology, in particular in its role in its role in the election of Donald Trump, a man who looks like a Wotsit wearing a wig, as president and terror attacks are seen as something that cannot be understood. In somewhat bizarre turn Kozelek also seems to think that the only person who could have stopped terrorism and other violent attacks is Mohammed Ali. He also believes that terrorists should have their heads beaten in with blunt objects and is obsessed with obscure murders so may be a little unhinged at this point. Smaller details such as getting a colour blind person to pick which shade of grey he wants to paint his bathroom and dreams about threatening people to stop them stalking him and his wife Caroline are somewhat worrying.
Sonically, Sun Kil Moon’s latest offers a similarly bleak tone. From the first song, God Bless Ohio, this is evident with the use of slow bass guitar and strings playing behind Kozelek’s rough tones. Ominous background bass riffs and echoing vocals appear throughout the album adding to this depressive tone. This is used to particular affect during I Love Portugal and Bastille Day. However, as the album progresses it seems to become more and more repetitive. The beats remain the same for long periods of time and Kozelek’s sing, or more accurately talking, begins to seem monotone making it easy to phase out. All of the songs are also sufficiently similar for them to start to blur into one. This is an issue exacerbated by the sheer length of the album. A total run time of two hours and 16 minutes is long even for a double album. Due to this moments of brilliance are often drowned out in a sea of repetitive sounds and monotone singing. However, it does mean that every play through is a voyage of discovery as new, and often bizarre, details reveal themselves. A final issue, that is so often a feature of streams of consciousness is that songs often become disjointed. They jump between seemingly unconnected subjects like the mental version of a demented frog. Maybe Kozelek could have further divided these sections into separate songs but then again if you are being literary this could be a metaphor for the undecipherable and often fighting world we increasingly find ourselves in.
Ultimately, Common As Light And Love Are Red Valleys Of Blood is a flawed album that can be confusing and difficult to follow, often becomes repetitive and is almost relentlessly bleak. It is safe to say that it is never likely to achieve mainstream success and is very much an acquired taste. However, it is also an album that I cannot bring myself to dislike. There are moments of brilliance if you take the time to search through the gargantuan run time and at its best the ominous tone could be cut with a knife. To add to this, you are unlikely to hear anything similar to it without making some serious effort. Sun Kil Moon gets full marks for individuality. As a whole this album is just bizarre and interesting enough to draw you in and keep you listening until the end in case you miss a momentary flash of brilliance. However, it should come with a warning that it will not be to everyone’s taste.