Imagine reading a stranger's diary.
Now imagine reading a stranger's diary for two straight hours in a dark room.
That's what Sun Kil Moon's latest record is like.
Sun Kil Moon, helmed by Mark Kozelek, has long been a place for the singer-songwriter's long, rambling, stream-of-consciousness folk rock. His songs are often lengthy, meandering autobiographical tales that land somewhere between spoken word and modern folk music. But his latest record, Common as Light and Love are Red Valleys of Blood, is easily his longest, densest album yet. Clocking in at an insane 130 minutes, with 12 of 16 songs lasting longer than seven minutes, it's the type of album most people won't listen to more than, say, three songs of — ever.
And in the long run, that's probably for the best. In order to get anything out of Common as Light and Love, you need to not only have the patience to sit through two hours of spoken lyrics and subdued drums and bass, but you also have to be invested in the Kozelek's life, opinions and stories.
Which can be difficult, given he's kind of an asshole.
The fingerprints of the current political landscape are all over this album, but through Kozelek's coarse, unfiltered midwestern growl, the influence is a little jarring.
"I saw some things in Ohio last year that my West Coast friends would be convulsing over. Trump signs in every yard, for starters," he said in a recent interview with Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst.
While Kozelek is admittedly not a President Trump fan — he released an anti-Trump song called "The Greatest Conversation Ever in the History of the Universe" in October — his tales of growing up in a Midwestern white, working class family provide unpleasant context to a Trump presidency.
Unfortunately, most of the album spends its time making blunt, direct criticisms of the world instead of painting a portrait of what it's like to live in the United States. Almost every song mentions specific terrorist attacks and mass shootings, as if to constantly remind us of how terrible the world is. And Kozelek's political criticism are usually equally pessimistic.
"When Donald Trump becomes president blame it on Facebook, Yelp and reality TV and Twitter and Uber and Google and video games and every other thing that has turned this country into a bunch of dumbed-down slaves of technology," he baselessly accuses on the nine-minute political rant "Lone Star," which admirably spends several minutes bashing "rednecks" in North Carolina for the "transgender law."
On his critically acclaimed (and much shorter) 2014 album Benji, Kozelek spent his time telling nostalgic stories of his upbringing and a few selected moments from his life as a musician. But here, he just comes across as the weird middle-aged guy who's obsessed with serial killers and hates millennials and cellphones and stuff. In fact, lyrically, the biggest problem with the album is simply Kozelek's personality; Common as Light and Love is arguably the wordiest album of any type in recent memory, but it's hard to completely immerse yourself in the musical consciousness of an angry, verbose man who says "fuck" a lot.
From a musical standpoint, Common as Light and Love doesn't have a whole lot going for it either. Most songs feature bare bones bass and drums looped for five minutes at a time, with guitar and piano licks thrown in for texture. Some of the instrumentals could pass for old-school rap beats, but Kozelek's flowless spoken word delivery doesn't take advantage of the obvious comparison. There are some highlights, however — "Seventies TV Show Theme Song" does in fact sound like a '70s TV show theme song, and "Window Sash Weights" features suitably dramatic acoustic guitar.
Maybe it's a "millennial" criticism, but what Kozelek doesn't seem to understand is that two hours is a lot of time, and unless you're a Sun Kil Moon superfan, Common as Light and Love are Red Valleys of Blood isn't quite worth the investment.
Sometimes diaries aren't meant to be read.