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Artist Spotlight

A Mark Kozelek Primer

by Annie Zaleski

A Mark Kozelek Primer

About this playlist

In February, Mark Kozelek released two solo records on the same day: Like Rats, an all-acoustic covers album featuring renditions of songs by such contemporaries as Ted Nugent and Bruno Mars, and Live at Phoenix Public House Melbourne. The dueling releases were all in a day’s work for the introspective Ohio native, who might be considered the Robert Pollard of the campfire-folkie, Neil Young with Crazy Horse-worshipping set: A prolific singer, songwriter and performer, he churns out a steady stream of intimate-sounding live albums, covers collections and studio records under both his own name and the moniker Sun Kil Moon.

But to understand his development as a solo artist, it’s important to turn to his first band, Red House Painters. Based in San Francisco and signed to hip British label 4AD, the slowcore group initially dabbled in Cocteau Twins-esque gloom clouds, nostalgic dream pop and glacial shoegaze. They eventually thawed out considerably, though, with 1995’s Ocean Beach and (especially) 1996’s career peak Songs for a Blue Guitar, which were equal parts hollowed-out acoustic rock and biting electric-folk snarls.

Post-Red House Painters, as Sun Kil Moon, Kozelek established himself as an agile guitarist adept at ferocious feedback dust clouds (2003’s lovely Ghosts of the Great Highway), desolate indie folk (2008’s April) and lacy acoustic picking (2012’s Among the Leaves, on which he used nylon-string guitar). But across his massive discography, these albums are all united by his voice: a plaintive, wistful tenor that’s in a permanent state of apology. Because of this, Kozelek is an empathetic performer, which explains why he gets away with doing so many covers: AC/DC’s “Rock ‘N’ Roll Singer,” from 2001’s What’s Next to the Moon, is imagined as a regret-filled country ballad rather than a rallying cry, while the version of The Cars“All Mixed Up” on Songs for a Blue Guitar is desolate and definitive. He's got so much passion for these songs, he’s able to make them his own.

Here’s a closer look at more of Mark Kozelek’s indelible catalog.