Mark Kozelek has long operated under the guise of band names—first Red House Painters, more recently Sun Kil Moon—but even when backed by other musicians, he always sounds like a man alone. On Admiral Fell Promises, his fourth album under the Sun Kil Moon moniker, Kozelek is literally alone, accompanied only by his own nylon-string guitar on 10 starkly unadorned songs. The limited medium ends up being the message on Admiral, which announces itself as a concept album of sorts with the opening lines of “Alesund”: “No, this is not my guitar, I’m bringing it to a friend / No, I don’t sing, I’m only humming along / Up here in the air, mumbling at the clouds.” Kozelek then proceeds to hum and mumble dreamily over his frequently dazzling Spanish classical guitar for the next hour.
Lyrically, Admiral Fell Promises treads familiar ground, though Kozelek’s comfortable pose as the rueful, soulful romantic is altered slightly by the unabashed love song “You Are My Sun,” which finds him playing the happy soulful romantic. Musically, Admiral Fell Promises deliberately departs from the slowly unfolding electric-guitar epics of 2008’s April, making Kozelek’s beautiful finger-picking the primary instrument for expressing his seemingly inexhaustible supply of melancholy.
Admiral can be a suffocating listen for those not on Kozelek’s wavelength, which might be difficult to tune into in the middle of summer. (Unless you’re enjoying a beach vacation in Siberia.) When he sings “Let me lock you in my room and keep you for a while” at the album’s midpoint, it’s more of a reminder of where you already are than an invitation to intimacy. But Kozelek’s Dylan-esque knack for delivering intensely internal narratives over simple folk melodies stretched out for several hypnotic minutes has once again resulted in top-notch mood music. If feelings of bittersweet resignation ever find you, or if you’re looking for them, Admiral Fell Promises will be there.