"Happiness and cheer" - Mark Kozelek, 2014.
For real, though, the world's grumpiest folkie -- the Scrooge of slowcore, if you like -- has decided to release a record of his very own Christmas carols. Taking after his recent record, 'Benji', with its literal and overwhelmingly simple lyricism, Kozelek continues to be straight-forward with these traditional covers. God rest ye miserable gentlemen.
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- Sings Christmas Carols by Mark Kozelek
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If you’re the type of Mark Kozelek fan who would rather he sung about hiring plumbers, creepily flirting with strangers and forgiving his dad for buying him socks for his birthday, I wouldn’t recommend ‘Mark Kozelek Sings Christmas Songs’, in which he actually just sits down and sings some Christmas songs. This is the first time I’ve felt truly relieved to hear a record of Kozelek covers, which goes to show how dire a year it’s been for him -- here at Norman Records, we’re kinda surprised that the sad folk think tank is holding ‘Benji’ up as some sort of new standard, considering it’s a record which takes chants of “blue crab cakes” as its most meaningful refrain. Where Kozelek’s literal songwriting was beautiful and descriptive on early Sun Kil Moon records, his work has become insular, with none of the reflection his stories once were filled with -- stories about hanging with the Postal Service dude and phoning his mum are raced through at rapid, uncaring pace.
So if you’re looking for a bit less overbearing sincerity in your Kozelek, then he actually sings the words “Happiness and cheer” on this record. I’m serious. “Christmas Time Is Here” is actually a fairly nice, gently mumbled version of the Christmas traditional, plucked on nylon string that recalls ‘Admiral Fell Promises’ and parts of ‘Among the Leaves’, but eventually gets fucked up with some now typical Kozelek antics: “Of all the Mark Kozeleks in the world, you are the Mark Kozelekiest”, sings a friend back after our scrooge of slowcore admits to not feeling all that Christmassy. Vince Guaraldi died for this?
Kozelek’s picking and strumming is on point here, but as with his older covers, he likes to alter melodies and disrupt tones: as with his Modest Mouse and AC/DC covers, some of these versions limp with his melancholy instead of their usual sweetness (take “O Christmas Tree” and its slight tonal shift). That said, he’s no better remaining wholly faithful to his source material: I never want to hear his version of “O, Come All Ye Faithful” again, in which he resorts to acappella vocal chants, as if celebrating his tired, yawning voice. No thank you.
I am hoping for a Christmas Carol moment in Mark Kozelek’s life. I am hoping he will stop being awful and that the ghosts of the great highway will visit him again and show him his life. They’ll take him back when he was in love with Katy from 'Katy Song', and to the present, here at Norman Records, where we all want to sit down to our Christmas dinner but have to listen to his shitty and pointless Christmas album. And then they’ll take him to the future, where his tombstone is engraved with three simple words: “blue crab cakes”. He will change his ways, buy The War On Drugs a whole turkey, and the world will rest happy that one folk rock frown was turned upside down.
9/10 Wayne Customer review, 13th December 2014
What is Robin smoking? Christmas spirit? This is top bag. I buy a Christmas album every year and this was 2014's. It's beautiful - in the main just yer man's voice and guitar. It's up there with the Phil Spector album, Low and the mighty Elvis in my fave Christmas LPs. Just buy it. Bah hum bug Robin
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