The double-tracked mournful voice is one of the more mesmerising tricks in music. Mark Kozelek is one of the absolute masters of this and ‘Admiral Fell Promises’, a solo album in all but name, is one man, one guitar and two vocal tracks deployed to wonderful effect. Having previously released music under his own name and been the founding figure of the sublime Red House Painters, Kozelek has, since 2002, been operating within the confines of Sun Kil Moon. Previous albums ‘Ghosts Of The Great Highway’ and ‘April’ have been Neil Young evoking bursts of vintage Americana, the latter comprised of many songs not unfamiliar with the ten minute mark.
While these songs are hardly short – six of the ten clock in past six minutes – the sound of ‘Admiral Fell Promises’ feels far more open, at least in part due to the sheer amount of space created by stripping back almost all of what was there before. ‘You Are My Sun’ is as bare and beautiful as you might imagine, and worth celebrating for the magical couplet: “You are a friend in the shadows there to bring when I need, you are the suites of cellos there to mend if I bleed.”
Truth be told, the Sun Kil Moon track I have perhaps loved more than any other this year, even ‘You Are My Sun’, is a ridiculously enjoyable cover of ‘I’ll Be There’ by The Jackson 5. Only two minutes and twenty seconds long, it recasts it in similarly sparse clothes to all of ‘Admiral Fell Promises’ and demonstrates not only that it is and always has been a great song, but also that Kozelek’s abilities as an interpreter are a match for his skills as a songwriter. You can get in on the bonus ‘I’ll Be There’ which comes free with purchases of the album from direct from the Caldo Verde label.
And so the Bella Union love-in begins. It should come as no surprise to hear that this isn’t the only album released on that particular label to feature in this list, after the quite magnificent array of records they’ve put out since January. There’s a piece in the latest issue of The Word magazine proclaiming Bella Union the label of the year, and I don’t think anyone could really argue with that.
Where to begin? Well, ‘Blue As Your Blood’ could be straight from ‘The Age Of Understatement’ by The Last Shadow Puppets, which is no bad thing. Meanwhile, ‘Stranded’ sounds oddly like the Stereophonics (I know, not often, but they were good at the start) crossed with Jona Lewie’s ‘Stop The Cavalry’. And, although I know what you’re thinking, this is also no bad thing. The Walkmen have never previously sounded this good, so whatever it is they now actually sound like, whichever convoluted simile or metaphor gets wheeled out, it has to be a good thing. Because ‘Lisbon’ is a great record.
Hamilton Leithauser has a voice as good as his quite magnificent name and it is put to good use on this delightful record. I didn’t really come to the record with preconceptions or expectations, having enjoyed ‘A Hundred Miles Off’ without actually feeling any great need to explore further. Thankfully, ‘Lisbon’ landed in my lap and my luck was in. ‘Woe Is Me’ is a bit of prime quality, slightly obscured vocal jangle rock, sounding not unlike a band quite fond of early to mid period Beatles. It’s a wonderfully warm sounding record created by a band who truly sound like they love doing this. There’s not an ounce of fat on ‘Lisbon’, although you suspect that the effortless feel is oh-so-very meticulous, for all the right reasons.
With lyrics like “I could dream of you forever” and numerous mentions of the “sky above”, the lyrics aren’t going to offer you a profound meditation on life, but they’re entirely right for such an optimistic sounding record, and a record which was borne of fifties and sixties rock, when a well placed platitude worked wonders. If you don’t finish listening to ‘Lisbon’ with a smile on a face I’d be really rather surprised. And suspicious.