Album Review: Sun Kil Moon's 'Among the Leaves'

“Among the Leaves” (Caldo Verde), the latest from Sun Kil Moon, is a road record. More specifically, it’s a record about memories of the road: people, places and most of all images encountered during an itinerant life, which is more or less what leader Mark Kozelek has been living for more than two decades.

It sounds like a lonely life, though Kozelek can make almost anything sound lonely (see also, “Tiny Cities,” the wrenching album of Modest Mouse covers that Sun Kil Moon released in 2005). Still, these 17 songs (there’s also a bonus disc of alternate takes) are often desolate, which Kozelek  tempers with self-aware, mordantly witty song titles: opener “I Know It’s Pathetic But That Was the Greatest Night Of My Life” describes an encounter in Russia with a fan that went nowhere, while “Not Much Rhymes With Everything’s Awesome At All Times” acerbically questions what a would-be writer is hiding beneath a relentless stream of positivity.

The music is characteristically subdued, centering mostly around Kozelek’s sleepy voice and acoustic guitar. He alternately picks and strums through “Sunshine in Chicago,” finds a swift, dark flamenco-flavored part on “Track Number 8” (which is actually the 11th song) and plays a lilting elegiac part on “Song for Richard Collopy,” an ode to an eccentric guitar repairman. Brushed drums power the title track, and there’s a hint of banjo on “Young Love,” a classically inspired piece that stretches close to 7 minutes.

It’s a song of reminiscence, and Kozelek sings in resigned wonder at the ways we change without meaning to, growing ghostly and wan as the years drift by. It’s a recurring theme on “Among the Leaves,” an album of sentiment that never becomes sentimental. The difference is all the more crucial for being subtle, but then Kozelek has never had trouble with subtlety.

— Eric R. Danton 

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