Another day another Mark Kozelek project. ’30 Seconds to the Decline of Planet Earth’ sees Kozelek’s Sun Kil Moon team up with Jesu – project of Justin Broadrick – in their second collaborative release, following up 2016’s eponymous album. Said previous album saw neither side of the collaborative coin try anything too outrageous, if anything it was exactly what you’d expect – the lengthy stories of Kozelek, the slightly experimental instrumentals of Jesu, but this new album sees both artists play to their strengths a lot more.
To state the obvious, Mark Kozelek’s strength IS his storytelling – his ability to captivate any listener by rambling about things that have happened in his life, whether lousy, melancholic or optimistic. Just as listeners were thinking Kozelek did this as much as possible on ‘Common as Light and Love are Red Valleys of Blood’, he has found newer, fresher subjects to detail on this album. ‘Needles Disney’ explores a time he visited Disney World with a drug addict friend, while professing how much he loves this particular friend as a person despite their flaws. ‘The Greatest Conversation Ever in the History of the Universe’ sees Kozelek recall time spent with Laurie Anderson, on ‘He’s Bad’ he refuses to hold back on his thoughts about Michael Jackson’s multiple controversies, and ‘Twenty Something’ boasts a nice narrative about rebel author Johnny Saint-Lethal.
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Kozelek’s lyrics still find that accessible mix of explorative/poetic and deliberately simple. One of the most humorously endearing examples occurs on the song ‘Bombs’, where Mark says “I looked at the street and I walked across it, thinking that salad wasn’t bad, I liked the way that he tossed it”, after leaving a restaurant. A lot of fans prefer the ‘Benji’ style of song structure/performance, but Kozelek’s performance here might actually be the best of his more ‘talky’ projects.
Justin Broadrick plays his part in making this collaboration a better experience than the previous one. ‘The Greatest Conversation Ever in the History of the Universe’ uses an almost Kraftwerk-esque synthesizer pattern to fill the track, perhaps the nicest backing on the entire album. ‘He’s Bad’ uses a weird, dissonant acoustic guitar progression, and ‘Wheat Bread’ and ‘Needles Disney’ are two of the most electronically progressive songs here, using atmospheric pads and computerised percussion, and very nicely at that.
Some of the material here is still very trademark Sun Kil Moon, particularly the Americana backbone that ‘Twenty Something’ has. ‘Hello Chicago’ also has one of Mark’s tender “reading a letter” moments where the instrumental ducks into an eerie acoustic guitar section.
Hope has been injected into Jesu and Sun Kil Moon’s future collaborations. ’30 Seconds’ may suffer from similar problems other recent Sun Kil Moon albums have; its emphasis on cramming so much material into one song being a big one, but its optimism and its powerful storytelling prevails.
’30 Seconds to the Decline of Planet Earth’ is out now via Caldo Verde