Music Reviews
Admiral Fell Promises

Sun Kil Moon Admiral Fell Promises

(Caldo Verde Records) Rating - 9/10

Mark Kozelek has always been particularly graceful. Even when his writing has been intentionally challenging or obscure, the effect is never abrasive or off-putting; it’s the workings of a restless intellect. The trick has always been to avoid appearing self-conscious, and no matter how self-reflective and introspective Kozelek’s music and lyrics have been, it’s never been purely indulgent ramblings. This, I suspect, is why many of Kozelek’s fans become attached young, but never grow out of him.

Take, for example, the opening of Admiral Fell Promises, wherein Kozelek exclaims “this is not my guitar”. It’s a simple sentiment, but it serves to deflect the attention that will inevitably be paid to the guitar-work of the album. Impressive though it may be, Kozelek immediately, if indirectly, admits his debt to other artists. Which artists it’s hard to cite, though the influence of Spanish flamenco music and classical guitar music is evident from the opening track of the album Alesund, wherein Kozelek utilises a nylon-stringed guitar to perform a stately instrumental rumination.

This influence reflects a marked change in style for Kozelek, who has tended towards relatively unannounced or hazy, buzzing instrumentation, allowing his vocals to take centre stage. Admiral Fell Promises subverts this, featuring lengthy passages of intricate guitar virtuosity, most notably on Half Moon Bay, Third Moon Seneca and Australian Winter. This is hardly an instrumental album, however, and vocally Kozelek is as reliable as ever; his lethargic delivery characteristically intimate without ever being lugubrious.

Though Admiral Fell Promises does signal a departure for Kozelek, as it will be a departure for many of its listeners, Kozelek’s great achievement is that this departure isn’t a jolt out of the blue - despite the technical differences, this is unmistakably a Sun Kil Moon album. Kozelek, whether under the guise of Sun Kil Moon or Red House Painters, has always challenged expectations with his work, and remained reliably one step ahead. Whether it's by fortune or skill, however, he judges his audience perfectly and his maturation always aligns neatly with his audiences, giving him an air of progressiveness even as he delves so explicitly into classical influence.

The album as a whole isn’t perfect, but it’s hard to identify its faults. Some listeners might find it as a whole relatively samey, or even boring, but it depends on your perspective. Approaching it as an indie album in the traditional sense may in fact miss the point; Admiral Fell Promises sits somewhere in the middle of being a series of musical pieces and being an album. It’s brave, but Kozelek’s grace and musical deftness means he never risks alienating his audiences and makes Admiral Fell Promises another essential addition to Kozelek's remarkable catalogue.