Dead Korean Boxers and a Songwriter from Ohio

leaves

I’ve only just parachuted into an intriguing world: the music of Mark Kozolek. Named after a Korean light-weight, his current project is Sun Kil Moon and many of the lengthy, digressive songs reference boxing and death.

Along with Paul Kelly’s 1989 song, “Everything’s Turning to White” the film Jindabyne was inspired by the Raymond Carver short story, “So Much Water So Close to Home.” In it a matriarch laments the passing of her daughter, “When people die in the wrong order, that’s when it all turns to shit,” and Sun Kil Moon explores this, every parent’s dread, in a ten-minute epic on the recent collaboration, Jesu.

Exodus

Continuing the boxing motif this track is entitled after Mike Tyson’s late daughter, and she is but one mentioned in a catalogue of the tragically-taken, including Nick Cave’s twin boy Arthur and the son of San Franciscan author Danielle Steele, gone at nineteen to heroin. Whatever your religious position it’s hard not to nod at this

I don’t believe in God, but sometimes I hope there’s Heaven

In the middle section of this funereal hymn the singer then lists those he’s personally known who also departed early, and the effect is haunting.

We recoil: this poor man’s drowning in death.

My cousin Carissa

My friends Chris’s, Brett’s, and Dennis’s

And my ex-girlfriend Katy’s mum and dad

All became a part of the family of bereaved parents

Sprechgesang is a German operatic style characterised as a hybrid of singing and speaking, and matches perfectly Kozolek’s worldview. The mundane and the poetic sit together atop a twinkling piano as he conveys a stream-of-conscious monologue. It’s strange and compelling and in stunning effect on “Exodus.”

Fittingly, the song closes with a chorus and the lead singer harmonizing on this simple refrain

For all bereaved parents- I send you my love

Sun Kil Moon aficionados know that the opening track from the previous record, Benji,  documents the sudden death of Kozolek’s second cousin, Carissa, and the intertextuality of these amplifies the impact. Their discography functions in ways reminiscent of Robert Altman’s 1993 opus, Short Cuts which weaves together nine Raymond Carver stories. These have been described as “K-Mart realism,” and the plaintive grittiness applies here too.

Among the Leaves

In contrast is the title song of his 2012 album. With its rousing strings and themes of generosity there’s melody and sunshine, and the lyrics arrive through a warm baritone as Kolozek invites a homeless girl to use his downstairs room when he’s away on tour.

I’m away for weeks, arrive at night

She hears my steps, turns off the light and runs

No mind at all, more space than I need

It’s just me among the weeds, among the ghosts, among the leaves

 But with mention of ghosts we again note that death is unceasing, even in this effervescent context. There’s resignation, and no evasion from this deepening shadow. Despite this, Kolozek welcomes the light through the windows; the universe is not utterly dark, and we must keep offering, connecting; forever alert to the possibilities

When evening comes I play guitar

 For the planets and the stars

 I leave the porch light on

 Like I do when I’m gone

 Winter, spring, summer, fall

 Basement’s yours, have a ball

Sun Kil Moon is a confronting aural space. There’s elegy, confessional crush, and the open pages of a diary you’d rather didn’t catch your eye on your way past.

But it’s uplifting and cathartic, and we learn how even obscure Korean boxers can instruct our tiny lives.

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