The last time we heard from Mark Kozelek, it was on the very mediocre Tiny Cities where he was compelled to spend an entire album covering Modest Mouse songs without adding much of anything to them. Fortunately, the rest of his career has largely been much more successful, with a string of stunning albums as Red House Painters (including the beautiful Songs For A Blue Guitar, which is still my favorite Kozelek-related release to date) several interesting solo efforts (including a cover album of AC/DC songs) and the excellent first album Ghosts Of The Great Highway as Sun Kil Moon.
Considering he's had a hand in nearly one release per year for the past fifteen years, Kozelek has been remarkably consistent, though. His work is never unlistenable, and in that time he's done everything from delicate, finger-picked acoustic work to feedback-drenched rockers, with lyrics that sometimes border on overly-sensitive, but often hit on such beautiful and/or raw feelings that it's easy to forgive the few weak spots.
Despite his sometimes-prolific output, it's been nearly five years since the last Sun Kil Moon album (if you don't include the aforementioned Tiny Cities). As one might expect given the long break, April is a sprawling release. Eleven songs run almost seventy-five minutes long and sound like the work of an artist who is completely comfortable with where they're at musically. There are no real fireworks, no real major surprises, and like a majority of Kozelek's work over time, no real missteps either.
Playing the record is like putting on a favorite old shirt or pair of pants or shoes. It's reliable and steady, with most of the songs on the release moving forward with the same steady gait. "Lost Verses" kicks things off with smooth and steady acoustic/electric guitar work that bobs and weaves along with the words of Kozelek, veering upwards right at the end (of a nearly ten-minute song) for a slightly-rocking electric guitar coda that's surprisingly invigorating. "The Light" keeps the electric guitars plugged in, but slugs through a slow pace while emphasizing some trailing words with well-placed chugs while "Lucky Man," "Unlit Hallway," and "Heron Blue" all drop back to acoustic guitars and more sparse instrumentation.
Kozelek has never really been one to crank up the tempo (if anything, he's gone in the other direction in extremes), and with only a couple tracks where the electric guitars get cranked-up, parts of April tend to sort of blur together. Towards the end of the release, there are a couple stunners, though, as the amazing "Like The River" finds Bonnie Billy dueting with Kozelek for a warm back porch rocker, while the lush epic of "Tonight In Bilbao" layers string backing into the subtle, but luscious track. Not as good as the best work from Kozelek, and a long shot from the worst, April is a solid, if not surprising album that should be just enough for fans.