Wednesday, January 3

Album Review: Mark Kozelek

“Little Drummer Boy Live”
Caldo Verde; 2006

If there’s any complaint about Mark Kozelek that holds any water, it’s his tendency to linger too long in the world of sad bastard pseudo-pop and confuse repetition with soul. And I can understand that: Kozelek is a troubled man with deep, nasal vocals that often shroud what subtleties may exist and, when he extends song sections without changing anything, those subtleties are either lost or extend their welcome. I’m not saying I agree, though. Kozelek’s work, especially Sun Kil Moon’s “Ghosts of the Great Highway”, has always resonated with me and his lack of editing skills have been forgivable, if not a little endearing.

I have to admit, however, that “Little Drummer Boy Live” does suffer from Kozelek’s tendency to drift off into uniformity. Drawing songs from his 2003-2006 acoustic tours, “Little Drummer Boy Live” takes from the Red House Painters back catalogue, both his albums under the moniker Sun Kil Moon, and several covers.

What perpetuates this problem first and foremost is the acoustic approach and, more specifically, what is lost in translation from the song’s original recordings. The Red House Painters’ west coast rock loses much of its charm without it layer of atmosphere with songs like “Katy Song” and “Void” coming off as flat and colorless. The songs off “Ghosts of the Great Highway” lose their energy and potential to stay interesting without the backing band, especially on the extended jams of “Duk Koo Kim” and “Salvador Sanchez”. The three tracks from Kozelek’s Modest Mouse cover album, “Tiny Cities”, pretty much sound the same as on the album: pretty boring. And finally, the covers, which include a Neil Young song and the Christmas tune “Little Drummer Boy”, are nothing to get excited about.

The album’s most disappointing moment is the live rendition of “Glenn Tipton”, my personal favorite Kozelek song and the beautiful opening track of “Ghosts”. Like he does with nearly every other song on the album, he replaces the gentle strumming with arpeggios, throwing the rhythm of his vocals off and preventing him from hitting those out-of-character notes that make the song so incredible.

The quality of the recording itself is decent; the acoustic guitars are bright and everything, including the mistakes, is audible. Kozelek’s vocal mic is a bit too doused in reverb at times, obscuring what he’s saying, but in general the recording is warmer than most acoustic performances.

But if it seems like I’m only criticizing Kozelek, it’s only because I expect so much from him. The songs are still decent in their live context; only when they’re compared to the album versions do they falter. And there are still some truly beautiful moments on the album; old RHP songs “Mistress” and “Bubble” are delicate and intimate, not only doing their original versions justice but presenting them in a whole new light. “Carry Me Ohio” also works surprisingly well when stripped down.

In the end, the four or five good songs on the album aren’t quite worth the fifteen you have to work through to find them. “Little Drummer Boy Live” will please Kozelek completionists looking to lessen the pain of being unable to find “White Christmas Live”, but to everyone else I recommend looking into his other work before coming here.

Mark Kozelek - Bubble [Live]
Mark Kozelek - Carry Me Ohio [Live]

- Dominick Duhamel -

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