mon 20/05/2024

CD: Mark Kozelek with Ben Boye and Jim White | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Mark Kozelek with Ben Boye and Jim White

CD: Mark Kozelek with Ben Boye and Jim White

The cult American singer songwriter tackles the domestic and universal with equal panache

Cool for cats: Kozelek & co

"I’m a person who, knock on wood, hasn’t suffered a lot of writer’s block," speaks/sings Kozelek in the song “Topo Gigio”. And he’s not kidding. This new album is just one of six collaborations and solo efforts over the last couple of years, each brimming over with confessional, visionary, banal, funny and wise words. This deluge of work is arguably both a good and a less good thing.

The less good aspect is that it places a lot of demands on his audience to stay focussed for sometimes 15 minutes at a time (the length of some of these songs) over this many hours of work, while their hero lucidly and emotively tells them what kind of day or week or life he’s having and the world is having.

Having said that, when all the stars align perfectly – such as on the transcendentally wonderful Benji (apparently much loved by David Bowie) and this new one – the rewards to the listener are great. No moment or object is quintessentially more important than any other in Kozelek’s world. It’s all about the framing and context. There’s throwaway humour too. In “House Cat,” said cat ("slippin’ round the halls on my fuzzy paws"), complains about how we humans can’t stop talking about Trump. This cat repeats the name Trump until it becomes as meaningless a sound as her own meows (if only the man himself could be neutralised as easily). In fact cats haunt the whole album, just as death haunted Benji. Death loomed and pounced, whereas these cats saunter, wash, scratch or sleep. In essence, their benign presence introduces us to a more meditative and whimsical Kozelek than we’ve encountered before.

Contributing to and influencing this different tone are drummer Jim White and keyboard player Ben Boye (the latter has previously played with Kozelek’s band Sun Kil Moon). I’d even go as far as to say this outfit provide the best backdrop yet for Kozelek’s honed meanderings. With the man himself on bass and guitar, the musical conversation this post-modern jazz trio generate is in constant flux, changing tempo, moving from pleasingly spacious yet intimate passages into dense cross-hatchings of noise. But as ever it’s the honesty and directness of Kozelek’s vocals that are the main focus, recalling Lou Reed at his most reflective. He even manages to get away with rhyming "genitalia" with "Australia" so that one smiles rather than winces. It’s down to a gift for slowing down time and making grey days seem luminous.

Mark Kozelek with Ben Boye and Jim White is a unique listening experience that dispenses with all the rules about song length and structure. If anyone less talented than Kozelek laid themselves bare to this degree, the end result would be tiresomely self-indulgent. But instead what you get is the numinous rubbing shoulders with the quotidian, the robin’s egg blue of a child’s room somehow continuing to exist while bombs rain down on countless innocents on the other side of the world. This is how it is, and this is how Kozelek tells it.


If anyone less talented than Kozelek laid themselves bare to this degree, the end result would be tiresomely self-indulgent


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Share this article


Fantastic review of a superb album. I think this album is something of a quiet masterpiece and will garner a slow but sure following. It is definitely Kozelek's best since Universal Themes. Thanks for the thoughtful and accurate (in my view) review. Cheers

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters