Mark Kozelek & Sean Yeaton - Yellow Kitchen

by Jeff Penczak Rating:3 Release Date:2017-06-30

Kozelek’s post-Benji albums have all felt like he’s been channeling Lou Reed’s stand-up comedy act from Take No Prisoners or exorcising ghosts and demons who’ve singled him out for abuse and personal attacks on his opinionated lyrics and storytelling – like Lenny Bruce singing that line from The Coasters’ ‘Charlie Brown”: “Why is everybody always picking on me?” around the time his “act” consisted of reading his trial transcripts.

He’s got a hell of a lot to say about the state of affairs in the world, and fuck it, he’s gonna go straight for the jugular and God help anyone who gets in his way (just ask War On Drugs!) It’s the Wrath of Koz, and Yellow Kitchen continues where Universal Themes and 2-plus hours of venom left off a few months ago when he upchucked Common As Light And Love Are Red Valleys of Blood. Like Reed and Bruce, Kozelek blurs the boundaries between musician/comedian and raconteur to the point where these recent releases can be heard as the next chapter in Kozelek’s musical novel, or what the late, legendary Kim Fowley referred to as “a musical talking book”. Bless that Fowley…always ahead of the curve!

Kozelek has also been in a collaborative mood of late, teaming up with Jesu, Jimmy LaValle, Nicolás Pauls (on the spoken word Dreams of Childhood), The Album Leaf, and former Red House Painters/Sun Kil Moon guitarist Phil Carney’s duo with Chris Connolly, Desertshore over the last few years, and here he is accompanied by Sean Yeaton (Parquet Courts, whose work is unknown to me, although the tuneless, sub-Billy Bragg-meets-John Wesley Harding material I sampled didn’t impress). Regardless, what exactly Yeaton contributes remains a mystery, as Kozelek is notoriously stingy when it comes to sharing background info with the press and I had to review the album from an online stream with no accompanying details. But from the results, I suspect it went something like this: “So, Sean, why don’t you whip up some weird electronic noises and shit – not too intrusive, I want people to hear my stories. Then I’ll just sort of wing it with whatever comes into my head and press “Stop” when I run out of stuff to say. Yeah, that’ll work.”

I can say that opener ‘Time To Destination’ consists of metallic clanging and an oompa-band tuba burping behind Kozelek reading excerpts from his diary entry from October 27, 2016 (I did the math from the lyric “Here we are 11 days from the election”) about a flight to Singapore – how far he’s travelled, how far he has to go, the current temperature, how high the plane is, and the exact “time to his destination. Trump, the Clintons, Kozelek’s writing style, music venues, DJs, China, and Canada get the Kozelek once over, most of which is rambling diatribes against the fucked-up current state of affairs of everything from politics to the music industry (at least he talks shit against Amazon) to fans requesting 25-year old Red House Painters’ tracks (for your information, Katy is dead and he refuses to prostitute himself by singing ‘Katy’s Song’ to sell phones). The crux of it all: “I think the United States of America is going to hell.”

‘No Christmas Like This’ revels in explicit details that put you right in Kozelek’s comfy chair in his living room, but this being Mark Kozelek, don’t expect a holiday story that will become the next annual custom around your house. First, Christmas, per se, comes and goes so fast, it’s merely a springboard for more extemporaneous stream-of-conscious tales that don’t seem to have progressed through any quality control vetting – one of the major pitfalls and pratfalls of running your own label. You can say and release whatever the fuck you want and there’s no one to stop you and force you to pause and consider: does anyone besides you really want to have these tales preserved for eternity? Is anyone going to listen to it more than once, assuming they last that long?

Kozelek’s Mardi Gras experiences and the “good news he got today” are at the heart of ‘I’m Still In Love With You’ (accompanied by Yeaton’s tuneless, seemingly drunken yelping and mouth noises – I shit you not), which yields yet another opportunity to quote Steve McQueen from Papillon. But ultimately, it’s like the recreation of some ‘50s beatnik coffee house performance art – open mic night where a self-confessed poet hops on stage and starts rambling semi-incoherently to some avant garde jazzy backing (substitute some 21st century electronic clanging/banging) after which everyone clicks their fingers and heads off for another espresso. Halfway through, the only interest lies in listening to Kozelek drop as many cultural references he can into his “lyrics”.

So, OK, I can understand not wanting to revisit the RHP back catalogue on every album and clear your head by getting your troubles off your chest, but even psychiatrists get paid by the hour to listen to their patients whine. Which reminds me of a joke. Mark Kozelek walks into his psychiatrist’s office and hands him Yellow Kitchen and says, “Here doc, I jotted down a few things that were on my mind lately. Gimme 12 bucks and I’ll throw in this other EP where I recorded a few other things that were bothering me. Give ‘em a listen and then tell me how I can get out from under this funk.”

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