Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Red House Painters - Down Colorful Hill (1992) 5/5

Red House Painters - are a band who have greatly influenced my listening habits over the past year or however long it has been since I first discovered them. Since discovering this San Francisco, Californian based band, spearheaded by the industrious singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek, I have never managed to find a band within the same genre who managed to capture the same levels of emotion or move me as much. This, one of the most influential bands in the genre of slowcore, a truly horrible genre name, have, to some extent, shaped the way I listen to music, making me pay far more attention to lyrics than I have ever done in my life due to the fact that I find myself so often relating to the pained expressions of lost love and melancholy that Mark Kozelek so grippingly writes about. He himself has expressed in interviews the fact that he finds himself unable to listen to his earliest albums due to the painful memories they evoke.

Although obviously not to the same extent, each time I sit down to listen to Red House Painters’ debut, entitled ‘Down Colorful Hill’, I feel past feelings of anger, hurt and regret just as I did the day that took hold of my life. The lyrics to songs like ‘24’ I find particularly stressful to listen to (especially when coupled with the wonderful music video for the song), though this is what draws me back to Red House Painters time and again. I don’t know what it is about my nature but I love torturing myself through listening to the most depressed music, watching the darkest films and generally immersing myself in the most wicked forms of art. Listening to ‘Down Colorful Hill’ is like stabbing myself in the back as I betray my mind and put myself through the sheer torment of listening to those aching acoustics and that wonderfully dismal voice, expressing the most downtrodden of lyrics.

I find it rather amusing that, having taken a break from writing reviews for depressed metal musicians, I find myself sitting here writing reviews about depressed non-metal musicians and music. I’m drawn to it somehow. However, that isn’t to say that there isn’t any other emotion expressed via this groundbreaking record because there is. Despite the style of Kozelek’s voice, which is infiltrating due to its sombreness, there are some rather “upbeat” moments to the instrumentation, most noticeable I find on the self-titled track, ‘Down Colorful Hill’. Though the lyrics may express challenges ahead for the fragile human being in the story, there is an uplifting quality to the repetitive and rhythmic drumming, as well as the acoustics, which are normally so wrapped up in the dark and dense atmosphere that they can never usually get to that light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how hard they try. The atmosphere on this particular song signals a change in the albums direction and although ‘Japanese to English’ changes the momentum a bit, the strangely upbeat ‘Lord Kill the Pain’ swiftly moves back to that fragile state though this time through the lyrics and not the instrumentation.

The lyrics, in particular, are very striking to me. The song pinpoints things, albeit unintentionally, that have occurred in my own life once again, even to the point of getting the names in my own personal story right! I have a lot of respect for what Kozelek has done with this album, particularly when taking into consideration the ever impressive lyrics. He captures all those fears and desires I had as a mixed up teenager in a troubled relationship with seemingly mountainous problems that somehow dissolve over time. Though the lyrics may seem to suggest a rather irrational form of angst and despair as their main influence, one has to keep in mind that these seem totally justifiable at the time, so I always try to place myself in his youthful shoes, though it isn’t hard seeing as this album never fails to transport me back to a time when the emotions on display here are entirely applicable to my existence. Not only does he hit the nail on the head with the lyrics but his voice has a brilliantly juxtaposed warmth and cold texture to it. He expresses the delights with a burning passion and the downs with a cold, harsh reality. I adore Kozelek’s voice. It’s marvellous alongside the simplistic acoustic passages, gentle bass and probing percussion.

Whilst the first two songs, particularly ‘24’, were extremely emotive due to its intensity and emphasis on darker thoughts and feelings, are suppressed by their darker state of mind, the album switches to a more soft expression of emotion during the course of the self-titled tracks ten minutes plus (which also happens to be the longest song on the album, therefore dwelling on the lighter transitional period for a prolonged period of time before becoming more focused on the pain of life once again on the confused and hurt sounding, ‘Japanese to English’). As song like the aforementioned highlight, Kozelek was and always will be a brilliant lyricist. He captures so much in the short space of his songs. Each and every track of this album has at the very least one or two lines which are extremely quotable in reference to things that have occurred in my own life, making this one very special album to me. Whether he’s talking about how life dealt him a hand much different to the one he expected at a young age, or how he never realised his dreams, it isn’t difficult to at least empathise with what he’s getting at and therein lies the beauty of Red House Painters - they feel real. ‘Down Colorful Hill’ is a truly brilliant debut album consisting of remixed demos that fully deserved to see the light of day in this sort of format. Wonderful.

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