How did this happen? Who farted?Caldo Verde Records, 2017
Purchase: Caldo Verde Records
1.5 / 10
Mark Kozelek (Sun Kil Moon) and Sean Yeaton (Parquet Courts) have come together to make Yellow Kitchen. This is an album so terrible that it makes you question the genius of both men’s prior work. It’s bad, but it’s bad in an arresting way — a way that will stop you in your tracks and put a hideous look on your face. It’s like Lou Reed and Metallica’s Lulu. And like Lulu, Yellow Kitchen is the worst record of either men’s career. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have reached the nadir.
Kozelek has the curious distinction of possibly recording the best album of 2017 (the sprawling Common as Light and Love are Red Valleys of Blood). And now, the worst (Yellow Kitchen). It’s similar to Tom McCarthy, who directed the best-and-worst films of the year in 2015: Spotlight and The Cobbler. In both cases, you wonder what the artist thinks of these low-points. The high marks of Spotlight and Common as Light… surely come with some self-awareness that this is qualitatively better than that. How did this happen?
What makes the trainwreck so fascinating is how similar it is to Common as Light…. Now, not everyone loved that record as much as I did, but both records use roughly the same elements: stripped down production, spoken-word delivery, lyrics that are seemingly improvised, extended song durations. Even though the parts are all the same, the outcome could not be more different. Where Common as Light… feels like an exercise in maximalist songwriting, Yellow Kitchen sounds like embarrassing beat poetry from a middle-aged man.
The explicit, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach on one album feels like a man wrestling to record everything lest it slips away. The same approach on Yellow Kitchen has no lyricism, almost no insight, and a here-and-now subject matter that makes this record already hopelessly dated by its release date. Dadaist at best, but otherwise cringeworthy. The only objective difference between these two records is the prominent bass and drums on the earlier release. Maybe that’s the secret. Maybe a little rhythm would have saved this record. I’m kidding, obviously — an overzealous priest couldn’t save these half-dozen songs from damnation.
And while Tom McCarthy may be a nice comparison point for Kozelek, a better comparison may be Nicolas Cage. He, a man who, in an attempt to stave off bill collectors, seemingly agrees to star in any movie offered to him. I’m not attempting to cast aspersions of Kozelek’s finances. However, the prolific output of the man suggests some unseen variable at work. On top of the full-length records (Common as Light…, Universal Themes, and Benji), the cover albums, the Christmas record, the collaborations (two with Jesu, this pile of rubbish, an upcoming LP with Ben Boye and Jim White, stuff with Desertshore, Nicholas Pauls). This all leads one to wonder: what was Sean Yeaton’s involvement in this? Did he provide some of the (at times nice, interesting) noises that underlie Kozelek’s desperate grumbling? Was he present for recording? Did he have any power to veto these decisions?
To wit, here’s the problem: Kozelek does not want to be the songwriter he was three, four years ago. He doesn’t want to pull out his nylon-stringed acoustic and sing ballads. In his desire to be a different artist, he’s found a comfortable rut. He can string together mundane lyrics about whatever happened today. Then, he sets it to no discernable rhythm or melody. And voila, he can peel off songs faster and easier than he ever has in his career. Hopefully, he can go on long enough that these plain, conversational lyrics reach some sort of sublimation — a purity in the banal. On Common as Light…, this approach worked for me. On Yellow Kitchen, however, these results are so pitiful that you wonder if this is all some mean-spirited joke on the listener.