Highlights: Mariette, Hey You Bastards I’m Still Here, Tavoris Cloud, Sometimes I Can’t Stop
This is getting ridiculous. Judging by this year’s stupefying productivity (as well as last year’s very decent Sun Kil Moon album), Mark Kozelek is the new Robert Pollard. While a weird e-mail exchange with a former GBV drummer shows the latter acting like a complete cunt (with all due respect), Mark Kozelek has quietly released three albums in one brief and miserable 2013. And – okay, Like Rats is little more than a competent collection of covers (still highly recommended for Mark’s fans – middle-aged men in tennis shoes?), but the brilliant Jimmy LaValle collaboration Perils From The Sea and this new album, with a mysterious appendage named Desertshore, are both bound to wind up on any decent best-of-year list.
The man is so clearly on a songwriting roll, it’s almost scary. May he not come off it for another year or two – longer would raise suspicions. Whereas Perils From The Sea was a gorgeous and lethargic affair, Mark Kozelek & Desertshore is slightly more varied. With songs like the lyrically edgy “Hey You Bastards I’m Still Here” (classic!), the ragged “Livingstone Bramble” (effective guitar playing and no less effective name-dropping) and particularly the painfully personal and obscenely catchy “Tavoris Cloud” (one of this year’s best choruses, easily) go for something else: they have Mark’s trademark mumbling, but they are also rocking, energetic, upbeat. Things calm down towards the end, with a few lengthy songs trying gentler guitars and, in the heartbreaking "Brothers", piano. It’s that familiar world-weary vibe that is only briefly broken with the fluid, faux-country charms of “Don’t Ask About My Husband”.
Arguably Perils From The Sea was the more impressive album of the two, but that’s immaterial: the truly amazing creative streak is what counts here. Mark Kozelek, a man who looks and sounds like such an awkward and unlikely botherer of music industry (he isn’t, sales-wise), just keeps releasing his unassuming and underappreciated albums full of intelligent pop music. This new one is consistent, slightly depressing (hasn’t he always been) and really well-written.