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Posted on May 29th, 2013 (10:22 am) by Paul Rice

The news that Mark Kozalek and Jimmy LaValle were writing an album together didn't really rock the indie music world. Although both artists have been consistently well received by critics and listeners alike throughout their careers, and the pairing was unexpected enough, both of them have always had a way of pushing their art in directions interesting and beautiful but not necessarily groundbreaking or world shaking. Their songs are subtle and introverted, soft and patient. This match-up is no Postal Service, although it certainly does inspire one to imagine every possible combination of singer/songwriter and electronic/post-rock musician (James Murphy and Jeff Tweedy! M83 and Sufjan Stevens! Justin Vernon and Flying Lotus!).

Mark Kozelek, the guy who released six albums with Red House Painters in the '90s, five albums with Sun Kil Moon since, and a smattering of cover albums, live albums and EPs as a solo artist, has been a little more productive than Jimmy LaValle's five albums in fifteen years as The Album Leaf, but thankfully, Perils from the Sea finds something new for him to do, playing the part of lyricist and singer and leaving the music to LaValle. Kozelek rises to the challenge, packing almost every minute of the album (nearly 80 minutes) with rich, intensely personal lyrics full of vivid storytelling, intimate recollections and profound realizations. Although the voice and lyrics are unmistakably his, the absence (mostly) of his trademark guitar style and those rich, layered vocal tracks makes him sound stripped and vulnerable, though no less enthralling, especially on “By The Time That I Awoke,” a candid piece of autobiography where Kozelek reflects on his creative career, going all the way back to his childhood poetry and the people who told him to quit.

The nature of this collaboration is reduction, least common denominators – rather than mashing their signature sounds together, both artists scale their ambitions back in deference to the other; as Kozelek relegates himself to single-tracks vocals, LaValle restrains himself accordingly. The beats are more prominent here than on earlier, more post-rock Album Leaf material. Most of the tracks on Perils from the Sea end in roughly the same place were they began, minor, soft chord progressions meditatively repeating as hushed beats lay the canvas for Kozelek to paint his pictures. There is variation – “What Happened to My Brother” boasts some tasty Kid A minimalism, while the gorgeous blend of spare acoustic guitar, piano and drum machine beats on the melancholy tour travelogue “Caroline” evokes the Smashing Pumpkins' strange, underrated Adore. Emotionally, “1936” is every bit as brooding and dark as “You Missed My Heart” is gently peaceful.

Perils from the Sea, for all its restraint, works if you let it. There are few hooks and no singles, and seven of the eleven tracks are longer than seven minutes, with none shorter than five. Each song's dynamics stay roughly the same, some of them hardly changing from start to finish except for a gradual intensification of Kozelek's lyrical content. The whole experience is very stream-of-consciousness – the music pulses like a heartbeat, comforting but easy to ignore, while Kozelek breathes a random mix of memories, senses, dialogue and observations that create impressions and moods more than direct narratives or speaking points. Then one of Kozelek's lines grabs your attention: “Kids are fucking pricks” in “1936,” or “It was the first and the last time I saw my dad cry” in “Ceiling Gazing,” and suddenly the music and the words click together to create a powerful, detailed emotion. But for every moment where everything clicks, there are ten minutes of pleasant but unengaging music. Not every song lifts off, the album's consistency of style doesn't do much to help discerning listeners differentiate between the tracks. Really, that's the biggest weakness of the album – at almost 80 minutes, Perils from the Sea doesn't justify its length; everything good about the album could have been distilled into a stronger album two-thirds of its length.

While Perils from the Sea is a fresh and interesting aside for both Kozelek and LaValle, because of the album's refusal to draw attention to itself it seems destined to become a footnote in their careers. Interested fans of either artist will find Perils from the Sea buried deep in these guys' catalogues and love it, but it's bound to live in the shadow of their better albums.

Track List:
1. What Happened to My Brother
2. 1936
3. Gustavo
4. Baby in Death Can I Rest Next to Your Grave
5. Ceiling Gazing
6. You Missed My Heart
7. Caroline
8. He Always Felt Like Dancing
9. By The Time That I Awoke
10. Here Come More Perils from the Sea
11. Somehow the Wonder of Life Prevails

Sun Kil Moon & The Album Leaf - Perils from the Sea
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

71 / 100
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