This is the first album that I ever heard by the Red House Painters, and although it may be a tad bit on the long side (it clocks in at about 75 minutes), it's also one of my favorites. Of course, for me picking a favorite Red House Painters album is like picking a favorite vacation I've gone on. They've all been great, but for different reasons. Of course, that isn't a very good analogy, given the slow, sad introspective type of music that Mark Kozelek plays with the group, but it's going to have to do.
Before he was dropped by the label before his release of Songs For A Blue Guitar, he'd recorded 2 EP's and 2 full-length releases that all rank near the top of my music collection in terms of overall quality. Until now, some of his releases (mainly the 2 different EP's) had been kind of elusive, but fortunately for listeners (and a smart move for 4AD in general), the label re-released every single one of his works after putting out the 2CD Retrospective last year. The best part about it all is that they're priced cheaper than most new releases, so there's never really been a better time to explore the music if you've been curious about it.
As I mentioned before, this disc is packed full of music, and although a couple tracks linger on for a bit too long, everything on this disc is quality, and there are a couple tracks that are complete classics. It's just guitar, bass, drums and vocals, (and many times just an acoustic guitar and vocals) but the simple beauty of the tracks is what propels the release along with the amazing lyrics and vocals by Kozelek. The opening track "Grace Cathedral Park" gets things off to an almost unfamiliar start with the slightest bit of bounce in it's step, but things quickly get more somber with the lament of "Down Through" and the super slow-core drear of "Katy Song."
On "Mistress," (of which there is also a quieter, piano version of on the release) an electric guitar comes into the mix as Kozelek contemplates leaving the subject of the title of the track. Two of the most beautiful tracks on the album are also the ones that are the most stripped-down, though. On both "Things Mean A Lot" and "Take Me Out," it's just Kozelek and an acoustic guitar, but given the weight of the words in the songs, anything else would feel almost crushing. Yes, they're that good.
Really, the whole album is nearly just as solid, too. Whether it's the shimmering guitars of the reflective "Rollercoaster" (which fits perfectly with the packaging on the disc), the dark and drudgingly slow "Mother," or the short, pretty closing track of "Brown Eyes," there are moments (quite a lot, actually) through the release where words hit home and the music just catches. On the whole, it may be a bit too slow for some listeners, but it just wouldn't feel right moving any faster or poppier. I've said it before and I'll say it again that Mark Kozelek is one of the most talented singer/songwriters out there right now, and this older release only helps to reinforce that he's been doing it for quite awhile now.