|Rating: 3 / 5
Reviewer: Sean Marchetto
Mark Kozelek, formerly of the Red House Painters, ambitiously sketches out seventeen meandering tracks accompanied by the gently plucked nylon strings of his guitar. Occasionally joined by Geoff Stanfield and Tim Mooney for some percussion and extra rhythm work, Among the Leaves is an otherwise lonely album, strewn with songs that sound like they were composed in empty hotel rooms in the sparse, post-concert streetlamp light. Kozelek’s soft flamenco-style guitar is often a wonderful accompaniment to his wandering narratives of failed romances and the isolation of touring, as on ‘Sunshine In Chicago’ and ‘UK Blues’, the two-part tour diary entry.
There’s also a degree of resiliency here though. Kozelek sounds weary, but never defeated, evenly slyly proud at times, as on ‘That Bird Has A Broken Wing’, where the main character secretly visits his doctor to cure a venereal disease. Elsewhere, on the incredibly moving ‘Song for Richard Collopy’ he mourns the passing of an esteemed local guitar repairman. There’s even a touch of humour in lines like “Sunshine in Chicago really makes me sad, my band played here a lot in the ’90s when we had, lots of female fans and fuck they all were cute, now I just sign posters for guys in tennis shoes”.
At times one wonders how effortless all of this is for Kozelek, because Among the Leaves might just be a masterpiece if it wasn’t for the fact that songs like ‘Track Number 8′, about “the cats of Martinez”, delves into the tortuous nature of songwriting process itself. He lazily sings, “I wrote this one and I know it ain’t great, we’ll probably sequence it track number eight, then pick up some water at 7-11, on my way to the mastering session”, giving the listener the impression that the whole work somehow rose spontaneously from the ether itself. It’s cleverly listed as track eleven, a wink that suggests a more determined hand at work. Half the songs clock in at the three minute mark, as if to show off that it can be done, while others twist and turn to almost twice that length.
Among the Leaves doesn’t have a lot of hooks or riffs, but it does have surprising degree of warmth, making it a great album to listen to on those lonely mornings when all you want to do is stay in bed.