Red House Painters
Ohio must be an evil, depressing land. In the past two decades, it has spawned two brooding artists: Mark Eitzel and Red House Painters cornerstone, Mark Kozelek. This two disc retrospective is split between disc one, a “greatest hits” package drawn from their first four LPs and an EP, and a second disc comprised of live tracks, rarities, and demos. This collection is a demanding series of recordings.
Listening to both discs in one setting is emotionally challenging event, since most of RHP’s songs document the unraveling of relationships, sanity, and life itself. Lyrically, Kozelek documents a world where communication has broken off and the characters within his songs have retreated into a claustrophobic void. As he states in “Japanese to English,” “It’s not that simple, the dictionary/ Never has the words that I am feeling/ it’s not that easy, translating Japanese to English/ English to Japanese.”
The music itself is mostly acoustic with Mark Kozelek strumming a guitar and the rhythm section sparsely accompanying him. There are occasional forays into Crazy Horse territory but, for the most part, RHP remains constrained. The emotional understatement of the music balances the haunting elements of the lyrics.
Although frigid and claustrophobic, there are rewarding moments. This disc contains two versions of “Shock Me,” by Kiss. In addition, Kozelek does have moments of contentment, and careful listeners to this album won’t be disappointed. However, this is definitely not a party record, but a disc to be placed on claustrophobic Sunday evenings.
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