By Jason Herring, June 11 2015 —
Mark Kozelek is going through a midlife crisis. While many individuals face a rebirth of Holden Caulfield-esque angst when they reach middle age, few do so as publicly as Kozelek does on his new album, Universal Themes.
Kozelek is the frontman and creative force behind the band Sun Kil Moon. He also spent 11 years in charge of seminal lo-fi band Red House Painters in the ‘90s. Between solo projects and these two bands, Universal Themes is Kozelek’s 16th album and the singer is running out of things to say.
All of the lyrics on Universal Themes are stream-of-consciousness storytelling, where Kozelek half-sings about some mundane event that happened to him. The style is meant to feel raw and emotional, but without interesting narratives or clever wordplay, the lyrics sound like ramblings lifted from a teenager’s diary.
The two salvageable songs on the album, “The Possum” and “Birds of Film,” come at the start of the record. “The Possum” explores the intricacies of living a quiet domestic life, while “Birds of Film” stumbles its way to a warm sentiment about what it means to be at home. After that, it’s hard to find anything worth listening to.
Even the title of the album seems like a joke. The themes Kozelek discusses on the album — mortality, entitlement, purpose and love — are universal. But Kozelek doesn’t present his ideas in a way that’s relatable. His heartfelt songs end up feeling impersonal, and it’s difficult to care about his music.
Also, the last song is titled “This Is My First Day and I’m Indian and I Work at a Gas Station.” Ironic or not, the racism adds nothing to the album.
With only one track shorter than seven minutes, Universal Themes is a long, indulgent album. It’s an incohesive mess that only tarnishes Kozelek’s legacy as one of alternative rock’s great songwriters.