Album Review: Mark Kozelek & Desertshore

You crazy for this one, Kozelek.

You almost had me fooled with this Desertshore album—aptly titled Mark Kozelek & Desertshore. I mean, first and foremost, Kozelek—Koz. Can I call you Koz? Koz, let’s face it. You haven’t put out a good album in over five years—2008’s April, released under the full-band moniker Sun Kil Moon, was the last time I’d consider you relevant.

Then came the nylon string, classical guitar playing. And it just didn’t stop.

A friend of mine accurately refers to you as the Dave Matthews of the indie set. You have a loyal following—despite your best efforts to alienate your audience; but the true comparison comes in the excessive and unnecessary amount of live albums you release. Just this year alone, you’ve released three live albums—albums where it’s just you, plucking the everloving shit out of your nylon string guitar.

But you’ve also had a most prolific year with legit studio releases—the uneven (nylon string guitar) covers collection Like Rats, the collaborative joint you put out with that dude from The Album Leaf, and now this—Mark Kozelek & Desertshore.

The reason you almost fooled me with this album is because of your last effort with Desertshore, the mostly slept on, under the radar Drawing of Threes, put out at the tail end of 2011. Picking up the bass for once in your life, rather than the god damned acoustic guitar, you contributed vocals to six of the ten songs—and at the time, it was so refreshing to hear you playing with a band again. A BAND THAT USES ELECTRIC GUITARS.

Lyrically, it was also a wave of relief to hear you not keeping up the act as the hipster equivalent of Randy Newman—basically narrating your every move, set to song.

But now here’s this. Mark Kozelek & Desertshore. Are you for real though, B? Like are you for serious? Because this shit is just awful.

From a musical standpoint, it’s nice to hear drums and electric guitars on your album, Koz. And even though “Livingstone Bramble” is a shit show of a song, the Crazy Horse-esq guitar theatrics are appreciated.

But for real though? Why have you turned that song into what comes off your tired attempt at a diss track? You aren’t Kendrick Lamar and this isn’t your guest verse on Big Sean’s “Control.” So you don’t like Nels Cline’s guitar playing? Well don’t make such a big god damn deal out of it. Maybe I don’t like your guitar playing but I haven’t written a song dedicated to how much I hate it.

There’s the adage that you are supposed to “write what you know.” Koz, I wish you would learn some new things—have you exhausted every possible thing you know about, and are stuck in this awful “real life” songwriting rut?

Koz, I don’t care about how you couldn’t sleep at night, so you called your Spanish tour promoter. I don’t care about the crackhead you met on the way to the recording studio, nor do I care about the bottle of water you bought prior to your recording session.

Jesus fucking Christ, Mark Kozelek. How much do I not give a fuck?

Koz, I’m sorry your cat died. I know that kind of loss is terrible—but damn B. Your cat went to “kitty heaven?” Ayo, are you like a parent trying to explain to a young kid where animals go after they pass away? You could have had like, a legit real talk moment here, but way to go buddy. Way to cheapen that.

Koz I’m sorry that you’re all busted up about Jason Molina’s passing. I’m more sorry that you contributed a piss-take of a cover of “It’s Easier Now,” to the Molina tribute album that was curated earlier this year.

Koz, bro, you’re making my cringe here. Like I am wincing as your voice comes through my headphones—you “sat around, finger fucking your phone,” in “Seal Rock Hotel?” Well, I guess I’ve never heard it described that way before. And now that I have, I feel like I have to shower off.

The bottom line here is that I get it—you are trying to let us know how difficult it is to be you. That it sucks being a moderately successful musician who tours. That you’re 46 years old, and you’re tired. Look I understand okay? We get it. We all get it.

And yes it’s sad that Tim Mooney from American Music Club passed away last year. Koz, buddy, I understand that you’re getting older and your sister has kids, and all your friends have kids, and you’re feeling maybe like life has passed you by.

But I think the clearest message present on Mark Kozelek & Desertshore, is that rather than the introspective songwriting and impressive story telling you mastered with the Red House Painters, and with previous Sun Kil Moon albums, you would just prefer to keep things humorous now, and read from pages of your journal.

For the longest time, I tried to be a Brett Easton Ellis apologist—his shenanigans on Twitter eclipsing the talent he had. His most recent book, 2010’s Imperial Bedrooms, was kind of eh? And eventually I had to stop following him on Twitter once he started taking shots at David Foster Wallace—there were a lot of problems between the two of them in the halcyon literary heyday of the 1980’s. The problem is that DFW has been dead for five years, and so Ellis just looked like an asshole, running his mouth about a dead person.

The reason I even bring any of this up is because I worry that I’m going to run out of patience and that I won’t be able to a Mark Kozelek apologist anymore. It’s been five years since I’ve legitimately cared about a Koz project, and you can only go so far on exhausted good will.

There are two incredibly telling song titles on this album, and I think it sums it up well, whether this was intentional or not.

The first being “Hey You Bastards, I’m Still Here.” Referencing a Steve McQueen line from the film Papillion, reading in to it, it’s easy to see that even while the haters are gonna hate, it’s not going to bother someone like Mark Kozelek; a performer who is legendary for how he insults his audiences. In the mid-1990’s, label politics held up not one, but two, Red House Painters albums, while in the interim, promptly getting dropped from the major label they were on at the time. His voice is nowhere near what is used to be, but it doesn't matter; Kozelek is winking and saying that he is, in fact, still here.

The second being the song “Sometimes, I Can’t Stop.”

If this is as truly self aware as I imagine it to be, maybe he should find a way to do so.   


  1. Well, I was looking forward to this one, hoping it would be more like the previous Desertshore album and less like Kozelek's most recent output, but I read this and now I'm depressed. I did like Admiral Fell Promises though, lots of beautiful songs on that one.

    1. deary loyal reader-

      thanks for reading this blog and also for commenting. every review here should be taken with a grain of salt. everybody is entitled to my opinion, but all kidding aside, you are entitled to your own. don't let my thoughts on this LP sway you from at least giving it a chance if you are a Koz fan.

    2. I've never read such ill-opinionated, uninformed hogwash in all my days. You really have no idea, do you?
      Will Oldham once said something like "'s better to identify with the work rather than the people who make the work. You can put your faith in a piece of work, but not in a group of people you don't know.” If Mark Kozelek's recent work upsets you so much you should maybe consider this point of view.

    3. lil confused about what i have "no idea" about, but whatever. thanks for reading and for your concern. we obviously disagree. kozelek's latter day output is not so much upsetting to me as it is just flat out terrible.

      i think i understand what you mean w/ your will oldham quote. i'd say i used to be able to put my faith in koz's old work, but not in him after seeing him perform in 2008. now, i can't put my faith in either.

      perhaps you'll enjoy the piece i wrote for Bearded Gentlemen on the latest Sun Kil Moon album? i'm sure you will agree w/ all the points in make in it..

  2. I dig Admiral Fell Promises as well...

  3. Ouch. And that pain comes as much from recognising how truthful much of that article is! But dang, did that need saying....

    Agreed AFP is a great record, no question to me. But... Among the Leaves is a grower too... honestly, after repeated listens I think it is a record with much to commend it. It's dark, humorous, with splashes of true inspiration (among the endless tracks about what he's been up to). Go back and give it a spin...

    It is, as you say, his output from this year that has truly worn me down. I, too, am just about fed up with the plucky-Spanish style guitar (it seemed a nice new string to his bow on AFP - how differently I feel now!). I, too, thought Like Rats was pretty uneven - my main problem is it seemed he was on autopilot for the most part, and it's not as if we haven't been there before. I wouldn't be at all surprised if he knocked the whole thing out in a morning at the studio. I, too, think 3 (substandard) live albums is a PISSTAKE OF EPIC PROPORTIONS. I, too, thought the album with Jimmy Lavelle may have been a chance to turn things around and take things in a different direction, but was sorely disappointed, not least by how BLAND it was. I, too, think he is cashing in on his fans' goodwill right now, and it ain't pretty. Yet, in spite of *all of the above* some part of me is still sorely disappointed that the Desertshore album is apparently more of the same.

    Come on MK, I don't know what kind of a rut you're in right now, but best leave off maybe until the *poetry* comes back? And how's about laying off your fans' hard earned until you've got a *real* live album worth selling (Little Drummer Boy is one of my very favourite things you've ever done). Cause at the rate you're going, you're seriously starting to taint your previous work for me, too...

  4. everybody who post and so called Disses ( i guess that's a proper word there days?) is a Mark Kozelek Fan he plays music you have just fallen so deep into your own shit that this much more talented guy who has a different sage premise is getting all the shit. Rodger Waters Spit on a guy and hes practically a God in term of the Music world.

    I enjoying Beautiful music and Mark is a very good Musican

  5. hey hey my my !

    well, i really enjoyed this review and totally understand your point of view.

    howevever, i think it is actually one of the best records of this year and maybe the most original koz album since "admiral fell promises" for several reasons:

    the guitar work is very interesting and FRESH. i really love the intricate electric patterns of the first song or the classy dark cowboy riff of "you are not of my blood".

    lots of tiny details in the production which make this album more and more interesting, something i didn't find with "among the leaves" which is way too long and unequal, despite some incredible instant classic songs like "young love" and "black kite"

    his current lyrical direction has its own charm. i enjoy the vivid details of his every day life. it brings him closer, no longer on the RHP pedestal... but maybe it's mainly because my mother language isn't english, which could explain why i'm not very shocked by the dull aspect you mention considering this "bottle of water" story, for example.

    "you are not of my blood" is actually awesome. yes, i mentioned it earlier but this one especially gives me goosebumps !! with this discreet ghostly organ... this album is definitely worth purchasing thanks to this song.

    best wishes from lausanne, switzerland !!


  6. Look, guys. Koz's music will always be pretty good, whether nylon or electric, whether thoughtful or lazy, or whether with a band or solo. However, after seeing him in concert at his hometown of SF where he almost threw a girl out of the show just for requesting songs makes every lyric he writes seem all the more bitter, ego-driven, self-obsessed and narcissistic. Among the Leaves: who cares what hotel you stayed at has a nice gym? Jesus. At least take the time to look at someone other than yourself. "Elaine" is lovely, sure, but as Koz continues to act like a self-righteous (not to mention racist) dick at all his shows, he well-deserves this review.

  7. Mark Kozelek writes music for himself and we get to listen. His complete & utter disregard for the fans is a two-edged sword; on the one hand the resulting music is rare in its painful honesty - an honesty unencumbered by the need for approval - but the flip side is that he doesn't give a fuck about you or me, and that's a complex feeling in a fan who gives Kozelek his livelihood, and for whom his music means so much. Personally I think that, because his music is so raw & personal, he has long been freaked out by the obsessive reaction of many fans, fans who he does not identify with and whose outpourings of emotion he finds easier to shut out than absorb. He never wrote the music for us; we can enjoy it but don't seek a relationship with him. I do think he needs a wake up call though, I have seen him be rude and cruel and it's hard to square with the sensitivity he shows in his writing. But whatever, the music is fantastic. Never get to know your heroes...

  8. Having been a fan of his for some twenty years now, it's disappointing to me that the bitter streak continues on. The song he wrote shitting on less talented young and pretty artists, shitting on Nels Cline (an inventive and hard working player)'s getting harder to enjoy his music every year. The world doesn't lack for bitter criticism of unworthy targets. We have the Internet to fill that void. I will still buy this and give it a listen properly but i'm losing patience as a long time listener who used to get very excited by a new MK release...

  9. I think it's interesting to listen to songwriters explore different perspectives through their lyrics. His personal day to day musings resonate with me and make me reflect on my own seemingly insignificant experiences through a cinematic filter. I like to hear about the dark side of being a touring musician and the complications of relationship. I read that the Nels Cline lyric was a product of fitting famous guitar players' names into a set of rhymes and that there are no hard feelings.
    I mainlined Red House Painters as a young songwriter and eventually had to put it away from over use. Getting back into it and discovering all of the different recordings that Kozelek has done over the recent years is like finding a vault of unreleased Walking Dead episodes and I'm thrilled.
    Sorry you don't like spanish guitar.

  10. "Lyrically, it was also a wave of relief to hear you not keeping up the act as the hipster equivalent of Randy Newman—basically narrating your every move, set to song."

    Hmm. Randy Newman doesn't write those kind of songs. He's a 'character' kind of songwriter.

    1. thanks for your concern.

    2. Personally, I don't think he "hates" Nels Cline, I think it's more envy. And, yes, his music is tunnel-visioned and depressing, but he makes no bones about that, either. I like the music, some of the lyrics I can relate to, and some I just tune out. I only recently learned of Kozelek through my oldest son (31), and I am way behind the times here in commenting. So forgive me. But, we all have our opinions and I enjoy others' sides to things.

    3. Julia thanks for reading and commenting. Kozelek's latter day output leaves much to be desired (by me) but I am in the minority on that opinion I think. His early efforts with the Red House Painters and the first three Sun Kil Moon records are great. His change in songwriting is just not my thing.


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