Album of the week: Sings Christmas Carols, by MarkKozelek
Sings Christmas Carols
Mark Kozelek's album Benji (in his guise as Sun Kil Moon) is one of the best of this year, if not the best. Benji combined gently original melodies with an astonishing ability to tell stories that felt both specific and socially pressing. Riding the wave of that big success, Kozelek has released an album of Christmas songs for the season.
He opens the album with his classic finger-picking guitar work on Christmas Time is Here. His pared-down style and gentle, bittersweet voice are a perfect match for the melancholy roster he's chosen, and the simple guitar-vocals combo add a timeless, sepia cast to the album that will appeal across generations: "Olden times and ancient rhymes/Of love and dreams to share."
He's still Mark Kozelek and underneath the lovely, classic melodies runs a current of existential hand-wringing. During Christmas Time is Here, he muses, "I just don't understand Christmas, I guess", and a friend responds, "Mark, you're the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and make it a problem". But the beauty of the album wins out, especially on O Come All Ye Faithful, which Kozelek sings in layered a capella, as in a Christmas choir. We talk a lot about good summer albums, but it's rarer to find an album that feels like a little candle in the darkness of winter. This is one of those albums, wrought in rich tones to wrap oneself in, like a cup of hot chocolate in the snow. It's a wonderful addition to the Christmas carol canon.