It’s about damn time somebody released this album.
Old Ramon was threatening to become a myth on a par with
Smile or the original vinyl edition of Dylan’s Freewheelin’ -- one of
those records pulled from beneath black trench coats in dark alleyways
and poorly lit record convention bathrooms, and traded for tapes of
Brian Wilson doing acid with David Crosby and that crazy guy from
Starsky & Hutch.
When you really stop to look at it, though, Red House Painters leader
Mark Kozelek has kept himself so busy that you might not even have noticed
the lack of new RHP material. In the nearly three years since Old Ramon
was recorded, mixed, etc., Kozelek has released two critically acclaimed
solo albums (Rock 'N Roll Singer and What’s Next to the Moon), penned the
score for the independent film Last Ball and appeared in a little movie called Almost Famous.
Now, a thousand-odd days after its original release date, Old Ramon will
finally see the light of day in record stores across the country
courtesy of uber-indie Sub Pop.
From the word go, Old Ramon emits a distinctly Neil Young-ish vibe.
"Wop-A-Din-Din" and "Byrd Joel" both begin with acoustic-led intros that
eventually mutate into Crazyhorse-styled feedback frenzies, with Kozelek’s
striking vocals still taking front and center amidst the chaos his
bandmates create. "Void" absolutely gushes harmony as it
spends the better part of ten minutes staggering sluggishly about on pleasant plucking and pared-down percussion, while "Crusier"'s terse riffing and
smoky tone bring to mind fellow indie icon J. Mascis and his much
beloved Dinosaur Jr. "Golden" is strongly reminiscent of Kozelek’s solo
work; it's a glorious acoustic-led ballad that showcases Kozelek's knack for clever
songwriting and his uncanny ability to evoke a mood of utter despair
with only voice and guitar.
But as wonderful as parts of Old Ramon are, the spaces between the high points are at
times, less than impressive. The pairing of "Between Days" and
"River" is the best example of this phenomenon. Both are, at best,
run-of-the-mill folk-rock songs, meandering tunelessly along mediocre paths for
marathon durations (8:30 and 11:24 respectively) before collapsing onto themselves. "Smokey" and "Kavita" suffer from similar problems, weighed
down by their own sense of self-loathing.
When you really get down to it, Old Ramon could never have been as good
as people have built it up in their heads to be. Three years of
expectations boiled down to ten tracks and 70 minutes simply doesn’t allow
that kind of magic to unfold. As it stands, Old Ramon is a solid record
by a competent band that's just getting back into the swing of things.
Whether or not they're able to capitalize on the market they helped to
create remains to be seen.