Red House Painters - Down Colorful Hill (1992), 8/10

Down Colorful Hill was one of those albums that I knew I loved right away. Starting off with "24" is a perfect beginning to unearth a feeling of longing, combining Mark's biting lyrics with sparse, but perfectly complementary instrumentation. The vocal performance in "Medicine Bottle" is chilling, and while this track has immediate appeal, it gets better with each listen, unraveling a beautiful story. The song is wonderfully dark, both in its message and sonic appeal, but surrounded by optimism. The record does an outstanding job of transporting you to the world of a young man exploring various relationships in a wonderfully existential fashion. "Michael" is a beautiful closer, ending the journey in a positive, warm tone against an eerie and ethereal foundation. This is a very surprisingly mature and mastered sound for a debut, and though they would draw from similar wells in future releases, this is their most powerful and individually forceful recording. This is perhaps due to the necessity of rawness and poetic exploration of these themes to support the record’s effectiveness. There is a very specific feeling of pain that you can hear not just in the vocals, but in each instrumental performance, especially coming forth from Kozelek and Mack’s guitars, and in many key moments Vessel’s bass. Of course, Koutsos’ percussion is essential and strikingly tight in such a slow set of songs. Slowcore is a very fitting genre title for at least that aspect of the music, although it is extremely limiting compared to the wide range of aesthetics and motifs explored by the lyrics and accompanying music. There is also a notable juxtaposition of lyrics and instrumental tone in many of these songs such as the opener “24”, that has such tragedy but is such an easy and frictionless listening experience. A track like “Medicine Bottle” is more blatantly melancholic, but songs like “Lord Kill the Pain” or “Michael” almost sound giddy in comparison despite the continuingly depressive passages. Kozelek carries much of the record’s impact with his lyrics, but it would be nothing without the band’s superbly ethereal yet neat backing. One of the strongest folk releases of the nineties and, in my view, of all time.