I’m going to talk about Sun Kil Moon again today because the song “Elaine” on Among The Leaves is, um, incredible. It’s storytelling at it’s most delicate passage–starting off in the thick of a problem and then slowly revealing why we should care. The song begins with a soothing strumming of guitar and Kozelek’s resigned affect contrasted by patrolling unfiltered beams of harshly somber morning realizations. It’s the reality of the terror of the night before. The story begins with a call from the hospital explaining Elaine was found “high on crack cocaine.” It moves to the narrator in trepidation “feeling bad and full of shame, that I somehow contributed to your pain, I wish I could help you with your problems but, Babe, I got enough of my own.” Elaine’s cat jumps on the narrator’s lap and he decides to just take a nap. It’s details like this–these intimate, human moments(feeling fatigue and overcome with sadness, the desire for comfort, the desire for things to be okay) manifested through a cat and a nap–that involve the listener and cause us to invest ourselves into the well-being of the characters.
Then the song breaks off–the soft guitar strum turns into a furiously plucked cow-folk stomp-down and Kozelek’s cadence becomes pressured and deliberate, passionate and resolved. He sings of Elaine in the clouds, of loving “sweet Elaine”, of crying and crying “like a baby, I cried,” of wanting to get rid of his record collection, all of his records and “the recollections,” and burying them “in the past, don’t want to hear the songs.” Then the song breaks again and for pause, pause, pause we are left to think it’s over in a sad heap. But the soft strumming gutters through again, now more boldly even than the pounded strings just moments ago. The sweetness collects at the surface and we are relieved and glean ressurgance of heart as he describes helping an 8 lb. heavier Elaine put her bags into a taxi trunk. We are still left to our own devices to make sense of the story, but we have these snippets to help us along the way of processing it. Kozelek masters the art of taking his listener under his wing by crafting stories through inclusion of carefully chosen observations and details and paralleling musical textures and tempos. “Elaine” demands our contemplation, and because it is presented to us with such thoughtfulness, we don’t mind one bit.