What does ‘rekindle’ mean, anyway? It’s a question that bounces around Mark Kozelek’s brain in the nascent state of his latest project, distracting him from a familiar stream of consciousness as Justin Broadrick heaps sludge on top. This is Kozelek’s Sun Kil Moon doing what Sun Kil Moon does and Broadrick’s Jesu doing what Jesu does. For the most part, it’s that simple, the effect almost as if a fan of both acts mashed them together into one mix, unafraid of the mess it might make.
Jesu/Sun Kil Moon, the first such collaboration between the two, is a mess. Sometimes, the blend is seamless, Kozelek’s world-weary musings nestling gently against the crook of Broadrick’s distinctive, binary-like guitar lines - ‘A Song of Shadows’, for instance, recalls Jesu’s ‘Wolves’ and Kozelek is so comfortable amidst its stark procession that you can practically see the groove in his seat. On other occasions, this marriage veers from jarring to downright bizarre, notably when Kozelek opts to scream gibberish as Broadrick dials up the dirge.
As you might expect, there are no easy answers to be found here, not least what ‘rekindle’ really means. Kozelek, in general, really doesn’t make it easy. The cloth of curmudgeon clings tight to a man who is just as likely to take the piss out of his own fans as he is to engage in ugly and casual misogyny. But he’s also a terrific and poignant songwriter, skilled at deriving meaning from monotony. Indeed, so well-versed is his signature style that it’s practically his own exclusive genre. Hell, even one of his fans went so far as to record a pretty spot-on parody EP that featured song titles like ‘I Watched The Movie "The Revenant" With Leo DiCaprio’, peppering the piece with knowing recollection and minutiae.
So it’s no great surprise when a song entitled ‘Last Night I Rocked the Room Like Elvis and Had Them Laughing Like Richard Pryor’ pops up on Jesu/Sun Kil Moon and Kozelek gives over a few minutes to read aloud a fan letter that praises him and denigrates the Benji-worshipping hipsters and critics that fail to see the complete picture. This “real fan” takes the time to defend Kozelek’s sense of humour, as his idol doesn’t even attempt to hide his mirth. Is he laughing with him or at him? What does ‘rekindle’ mean? It might not matter.
This isn’t Kozelek’s first foray into seemingly alien territory. In tandem with Jimmy LaValle of The Album Leaf, he delivered fine work in the form of 2013’s Perils from the Sea. There, LaValle’s moody electronica underscored the script handsomely, the tone deft and smooth even when the subject matter turned pitch dark. Here, Broadrick opts for a significantly more dense tone, though he himself is not without brilliant glimmers of light – he wrote the exceptional ‘Silver’, after all – which make significant impact here. As with Perils…, fatigue sets in. Really, how could it not? This is a challenging listen, the rewards often buried, but they are there.
The letter trick is repeated to greater effect on the but-of-course-titled ‘America’s Most Wanted Mark Kozelek and John Dillinger’, the reading working as a delicate, introspective coda following one of the more driving musical efforts. You can take these contributions as ego-stroking or a charm offensive – tellingly, there’s no dissenting voices found when Kozelek reaches for correspondence – but there is something inherently fascinating in this practice. Another would have been welcome.
Kozelek has always been drawn to the actions and presence of others. Sure enough, there's mentions for his favourite boxers, for his oft-referenced girlfriend, for departed cousins and uncles whose lives continue to add character to run-on thoughts. On more than one occasion he references the death of Nick Cave’s son, noting that it haunts him on a daily basis. On the moving ‘Exodus’, he speaks of the loss of children, the unique wound that it creates for surviving parents. He is thankful that his own parents are still in his life, and he in theirs. On ‘Father’s Day’, he briefly details a killer he saw on the news that ”looks like a little boy, and not a man”.
What makes a man in the modern age, anyway? Kozelek loves his pugilism and he’s not shy about picking his own fights, but he’s prone to bursts of empathy, almost always delivered with conviction and vulnerability. Even amidst this different landscape, one can’t help but picture a proud figure in a box of his own construction, only it’s not that he cannot get out, it’s that he’s fixated on making that one specific well-worn spot bend to his will, even if it keeps the light from creeping in.
7Dave Hanratty's Score