Although I like to think of myself as having eclectic tastes, and to some extent that becomes true if one glances at my music collection, really I’m a singer / songwriter kind of guy at heart. And as much as I’d like to be able to play an instrument and write my own songs, I’d much rather play an instrument and be in a cover band. For some reason, that’s much more appealing to me. Maybe that’s why I like Mark Kozelek so much. Kozelek has been writing both his own music, which can only be described as delicately haunting, like gossamer cobwebs in an old Southern gothic mansion, and playing covers. He’s been the leader of the cult favorites, the Red House Painters, done his own thing with the pseudonym, Sun Kil Moon, and released the rare album or EP under his own name. All the while, in each incarnation, there have been brilliant covers, including an entire album of all Modest Mouse tracks.
The Finally LP is an idea that I feel more bands should employ. Too many times I have wasted hours and dollars on compilation albums for one track. Case in point, the Thumbsucker soundtrack for the Elliott Smith cover of Big Star’s “Thirteen.” Kozelek, with this collection, gives us his most recent contributions to other people’s compilations, all in one convenient place. Bookended by two original contributions, Kozelek provides eight fantastic covers from acts ranging from Stephen Sondheim (“Send in the Clowns”) to Low (“Lazy”) and from Will Oldham (“New Partner”) to one of his usual cover targets, AC/DC (“If You Want Blood”). Like he’s done time and time again, Kozelek reinvents each and every song he takes on, not willing to just play it as is. Instead, each song becomes almost a Kozelek original, save for the lyrics and a few simple chord changes.
It might be easier to imagine Kozelek covering such artists as Oldham and folkie Kath Bloom, but I’ve heard a few cover versions of “New Partner” and none parallel the subtle mastery of the original, without duplicating it, as does Kozelek’s. The ones that are harder to imagine are even better, including his earnest take on Low’s “Lazy,” his somber version of AC/DC’s “If You Want Blood,” and a song from the Nick, Jr. hit show, Yo Gabba Gabba!, the tender and sweet “Bedtime Lullaby.” But the true gem here is a cover that was previously unreleased on any compilation, Kozelek’s treatment of Hüsker Dü’s “Celebrated Summer.” Our folk rock hero captures brilliantly the wistful feeling of Bob Mould’s original, creating a cover that can stand alongside the New Day Rising classic in its forlorn dreaminess.
I could listen to Mark Kozelek’s intricately played acoustic guitar and tired, drunken golden voice for hours on end. It makes me wish that Cameron Crowe would write an entire movie following the Kozelek-portrayed character of Larry Fellows from Almost Famous. We could see him bloom from the reticent, stoner bass player to the one solo artist who made it big outside of Stillwater. Until then, I’ve got a lot of Kozelek recordings to keep me company, including this collection that made me utter the album’s title with expelled breath, “finally.”