Last week, we were met with the highly upsetting news that the world lost Jason Molina, the gifted and highly prolific frontman of Electric Magnolia Co. and Songs: Ohia, who left behind a brilliant catalog but all too soon. Molina was loved among his peers, as was his music, and so it didn’t take long at all for Graveface Records and his fellow musicians to announce a compilation album, Weary Engine Blues, whose proceeds will help Molina’s family cover medical and funeral costs.
Weary Engine Blues will feature covers of Molina’s songs from a number of artists, including Mark Kozelek, Phil Eleverum, Will Oldham, Allo Darlin’, John Vanderslice, Damien Jurado, Jonathan Meiburg of Shearwater, Will Johnson, Scout Niblett, Jeffrey Lewis, Hospital Ships, Wave Pictures, Herman Dune, and more, along with original artwork by Molina and a print made for him by Will Schaff.
Graveface has already released Mark Kozelek’s contribution to the record, a chilling interpretation of Molina’s “It’s Easier Now.” When he sings Molina’s lines in his absence—“It’s easier now / that I just say I got better”—it feels like a sock to the gut. Listen below.
In case you missed it in between the Grammys and the new stuff The Strokes and Justin Timberlake bringing you all the Suits and Ties with David Fincher, Mark Kozelek, he of Sun Kil Moon and Red House Painters, released a new covers album called Like Rats. This isn’t Kozelek’s first foray into covers territory by any means, but it’s first off, very good, and second off, a rather interesting roster of artists. There’s D.C. punk (Bad Brains’ “I”), two very prominent but very different names in progressive rock (Genesis, Yes), the title track from Godflesh, a track each from Danzig and the Misfits, and, of all people, Bruno Mars.
But one of the standouts here is the stomach-dropping closer, a simultaneously gentle and devastating take on Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe.” And how quickly the warm, fuzzy Sonny and Cher classic turns into a spare, heart-wrenching tale of desperation, of a broken man, down on his luck, clinging to the one thing he has left in this life: his babe. This is how you do covers, people. Kozelek is a reminder that covering a song can actually still be an artistic statement and really create the song anew as opposed to just making overly precious folk versions of rap songs for YouTube, perky college a cappella arrangements or soulless, grinning Glee soundtrack reproductions. And thank God for that.
Stream Like Rats over at Pitchfork Advance while you still can, or watch Kozelek do his thing on Bad Brains’ “I” below.
Tauntingly named, The Amazing is something of an indie supergroup in their native Sweden. Lead by singer/songwriter Christoffer Gunrup and Dungen’s Reine Fiske, the group doesn’t stray too far from the latter’s slightly more trippy sound with his full time gig. Though a little less dappled with psychedelia their latest release, “Gentle Stream,” hews closely to the formula displayed on their 2009 self-titled debut and 2010’s six-song mini album Wait For a Light to Come.
Obvious touchstones reveal themselves quickly through fragile, sotto voce vocals and a languorous flow that instantly recalls Nick Drake and Red House Painters/Sun Kil Moon anchor Mark Kozelek on tracks like “Flashlight” and “The Fog.” There’s also a bit of Bread’s more rollicking soft rock side on tracks like “Gone” and “Dogs,” and a more recent antecedent would certainly be Toronto’s Great Lake Swimmers. (I also thought immediately of the fantastic, but lesser-known Chicago band, Pinetop Seven.)
Though their music may not be as puffed-up as their name would suggest, The Amazing does largely live up to it. Now that I think about it perhaps their name isn’t so much braggadocio as it is a suggestion that slowing down allows you to encounter the surprising and wonderful in the world around you. And that is a bit amazing.
Mark Kozelek, once lead singer for Red House Painters and now the driving force behind folksier successor Sun Kil Moon, performed two songs (and a special backstage performance) with The Roots for Late Night With Jimmy Fallon on Monday—marking his TV debut, incredibly—and did not have a meltdown or piss off Questlove. For a musician with as many anecdotes of bizarre/prickly stage behavior attached to him as Kozelek does, that’s not bad!
While Mark may be foiling certain expectations by not heckling his audiences so much these days, the performances themselves have certainly lived up to snuff, even in the often perilous talk-show environment. Kozelek and company warmed up with a track from Sun Kil Moon’s latest, Among The Leaves, before launching into the pure honey of Red House Painters’ “Mistress,” a tremulous shoegaze track that ripples like water shot through with frail autumn light.
The “Mistress” take is so pretty, in fact, that you feel sure someone—if not zany, apocryphally cruel Kozelek himself—might interrupt and ruin it. Then again, this may be just the sort of pessimistic outlook you have to endure after listening to too many Mark Kozelek records. Whatever, small price to pay.