Mark Kozelek has one of the most distinctive voices in American music, and has steadily put out great albums since the early 1990s. Even though the names he’s used have changed over the course of his 25-year recording career, you know when you’re listening to Kozelek, whether it’s one of his earlier albums with the Red House Painters, a solo record, or something by his newer band, Sun Kil Moon. His deep, haunted, about-to-break-at-any-second voice is as unmistakable as the famous baritones of Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, or Bill Callahan.
Although he can claim to have been part of the iconic 4AD roster in its heyday, and has consistently put out excellent albums, today marks a milestone in Kozelek’s career: the release of Sun Kil Moon’s Benji. Pitchfork’s Brandon Stosuy calls the record “astonishing,” among many rhapsodic early reactions from critics. Kozelek is no stranger to critical acclaim, but the reception this album has already received suggests the possibility that Benji might become the defining album of his long career. Still, it’s got a lot to live up to — namely, these highlights from Kozelek’s discography.
Red House Painters (“Rollercoaster”), Red House Painters (1993)
This is one of the albums people cite when attempting to define the sound of 1990s indie. The second Red House Painters self-titled album (the one fans call “Bridge”) is also worth listening to, but the haunting, confessional sound that issues from your speakers in the opening notes of “Grace Cathedral Park” will leave you wondering how something so sad could feel so perfect.