Dick’s Picks: Looking back at Red House Painters mournful debut album, Down Colorful Hill

Mark Kozlek will go down as one of the greatest songwriters of all time. While his work with Sun Kil Moon has taken him to new, exploratory realms through recent release, it was during the ‘90s with Red House Painters where some of his most heartfelt music lies.

The 1992 debut album, Down Colorful Hill showed the earliest makings of what the band would become, and birthing the often-criticised genre tag, ‘slowcore’. It may not pack the same earnest delivery as their 1993 follow up, and has been deemed ‘immature’ by some members of the press in contemporary reviews, but the six tracks served as the band’s first steps to greatness.

In the tradition of many 4AD artists debut albums at the time, it was put together using remixed versions of demo tracks for general release. It gave the songs a more ethereal feel and darker ambience, particularly the coming of age opener, 24.

The standout moment of the Down Colorful Hill comes early on with the second track, Medicine Bottle. Clocking in just shy of 10 minutes, it is a brooding tale of self-loathing from Kozelek. The narrative shows the struggle between wanting to find happiness, but refusing to bring down the emotional walls we build. Kozelek’s velvet voice slinks its way over minor key guitar lines that eat into your soul, and would not have sounded out of place on The Cure’s breakthrough album, Disintegration.

There is distinct air of torture about Down Colorful Hill, to the point where you truly believe this is not misery for art’s sake. Every word that comes out of Kozelek’s mouth is filled with sorrow and longing. Even on the sarcastic, Smiths-esque Lord Kill The Pain, in which Kozelek asks for death to everyone but him so he can live a peaceful life in solitude.

More than anything, it makes these songs relatable on a much broader level, due to the direct nature of the lyrics and dispensing with metaphor that many artists choose to masque their pain. It doesn’t matter where you have come from or what you have seen, these are real songs that anyone can relate to.

The more grandiose elements of Down Colorful Hill would be expanded on during the albums that followed, but the realness in Kozelek’s lyrics would carry on through his career.

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