Today, singer/songwriter Mark Kozelek is best known for his work as
Sun Kil Moon. Benji, his latest LP under this moniker, was one of 2014’s most acclaimed albums, and featured prominently in a number of year-end lists. In the wake of this widespread critical success, there’s plenty of reason to look back at the lifespan of Red House Painters, Kozelek’s first musical project.
This retrospective vinyl box set, simply titled Red House Painters, collects all four full-lengths Kozelek and company recorded for the 4AD label, including Down Colorful Hill (1992), two separate self-titled LPs (both from 1993), and Ocean Beach (1995); the 1994 EP Shock Me rounds out the set. While these releases were respected enough in their day to secure a sizeable cult following, the reductive, somewhat derogatory terms “slowcore” and “sadcore” were often thrust at Red House Painters. However, in the present tense, it’s easy to hear these albums for what they really are—intimate, literate records that filter introspective ‘70s folk influences through grunge-era angst and gauzy, hypnotic production. Like Sun Kil Moon, Red House Painters were less a traditional band than an outlet for Kozelek’s confessional epics, and the best moments here hold-up impressively as some of the most heart-piercing indie rock of the ‘90s (these sprawling works also offer an interesting contrast to the more pop-minded discography of Elliott Smith, another intensely personal Gen X troubadour).
As for the box set itself, initial plans called for an ultra-limited release (just 1500 copies on bronze vinyl), though 4AD later announced that standard black vinyl reissues of each individual record would be forthcoming.
The highlights: “Grace Cathedral Park” is sparklingly pretty folk rock bright enough to convert non-fans; the slow, snaking “Japanese to English” is a staggering tale of love lost in translation; “Katy Song” qualifies as a breakup classic and features one of Kozelek’s most memorable melodies; and the stirring “San Geronimo” offers a nostalgic, borderline-optimistic recollection of bygone summers.