More often than not, cover albums are awkward, artificial showpieces that reek of artistic hubris. Mark Kozelek’s The Finally LP falls outside of this definition, to an extent, because it was assembled as a compilation rather than a straightforward album: The sources are varied, ranging from unreleased tribute albums to a benefit record for the Minneapolis bridge collapse, and Kozelek’s selections, which tend toward the obscure, invariably settle into the web of his deceitfully simplistic sound. It speaks to how good he is at transforming other people’s work into something that resembles his own.
Finally goes by surprisingly quick, which may suggest that the use of “LP” in the title is there to remind us that this is not, in fact, an EP. Kozelek also drops his Sun Kil Moon moniker, possibly as a nod to the more intimate nature of the album (it operates mostly on guitar with some piano, resulting in 10 songs that feel deep and guarded but also somewhat inconsequential) or perhaps simply a whim for a musician who wears band titles like some people do suits. Either way, intimate is a fitting description, though this spare sound leaves the album feeling strangely empty at times.
The songs may be simply constructed, but instrumental sparseness has always been indicative of Kozelek’s style. It also provides the locus on which the album’s most interesting quality hinges, offering a method to reverse-engineer Kozelek’s often reductive musical style. This style has changed little from the Red House Painters to Kozelek’s present material; he works in small, dense songs that seem bland and wispy until some real inspection is applied, at which point it becomes clear how full and complicated they actually are.
If nothing else, Kozelek’s covers provide a context for his sound and a contrast to his much larger original material. The most dramatic example is his version of Sondheim’s “Send In the Clowns,” which transforms magically from a tumid, schmaltzy number into a tiny kernel of sadness and longing. His treatment of Husker Du’s “Celebrated Summer” tamps down the brashness of the original but retains all of its feeling, albeit in a controlled, nearly invisible way. Light as it may feel, Finally provides a concrete diagram for what Kozelek has been doing for years: taking big songs and packing them into very small boxes.