Following a full-length collaboration with Jesu (and directly preceding a second by a few months), Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood is the first album credited solely to Sun Kil Moon since 2015's excellent Universal Themes. At over two hours long, it's easily one of Mark Kozelek's most ambitious undertakings yet -- or one of the most self-indulgent, depending on the listener's perspective. The album was edited from improvisations with former Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, and other than a few bass or keyboard parts and saxophone on one song, Kozelek played all of the other instruments on the album. It's far less guitar-centric than usual for him, and considering that guitar has always been his main instrument, the album is quite a diversion for his sound. Some fans have even remarked that it's the closest thing he's come to writing a hip-hop album so far. He's the first to admit that he's a stranger to playing bass guitar and keyboards, but he's intrigued at what he's come up with. The music on this album tends to be quite repetitive and the rhythms are often similar, and since none of the songs really have hooks, it can be hard to tell when songs end if you're listening to the album all the way through. As with the last two SKM albums, there are many spoken word breaks and detours, making the release seem more like an opera than a conventional album. Lyrically, only a few tracks (particularly opener "God Bless Ohio") come close to the fond reminiscences of Benji. He does still occasionally mourn the passing of friends and celebrities, but many of the songs comment on specific news items, and the album is easily his most explicitly political work yet. Among other things, he supports transgender rights, wishes an end to gun violence, and blames Trump's presidency on society's obsession with social media, as well as its lack of attention span or concern with important issues. He also continues to ruthlessly make fun of hipsters, particularly during the scathing "Philadelphia Cop," and he directly jabs at anyone who doesn't like the direction he's taking with his music. "Vague Rock Song" is his biggest piece of audio trollery yet, starting out as an attempt to write a simple, catchy tune, but interrupting it with an unexpected Zappa-inspired part and faux Afro-pop section, and eventually he can't help going back to commenting about his daily activities and the injustice of the world. More so than ever, Kozelek's writing style is literal yet roundabout, and it almost seems like he's more of a social critic or satirist than a musician at this point. However, there is (usually) a point to his rambling -- for all of his bluster, he is truly a humanist, and wishes the best for the world, even if it seems like it's falling apart.
AllMusic Review by Paul Simpson
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2