Sun Kil Moon's "Alesund"

Songwriting Analysis

11/21/20235 min read

Sometimes hitting the play button feels like you are simultaneously hitting the pause button on life. Sometimes music can make a moment feel like it's lasted forever or gone by in an instant. There are a few songs out there that captivate you in such a way that they feel like they've been with you forever. Almost like you're looking at someone that you swear you knew in the past and recognize, but they look so different that you can't tell if you're recognizing them correctly or not. Either way you can't help but stare. Some melodies just feel so much a part of you that you can't imagine that you hadn't heard them before or that such a song could actually be "new" to your ears. Often when I'm writing and I come up with melodies like this I feel as though I am stealing an already existing melody. I do my due diligence and play the melody into Google's Song Search feature to see if my idea is actually original or not. Whenever I find a song with melodies like this I feel like I am stumbling across something that I've heard all of my life and "Alesund" by Sun Kil Moon is one of them.

The Nylon string guitar intro is infinitely captivating. The playing style is more rigid and classical than most of Mark Kozelek's other material. The melody and guitar arrangement is clearly defined yet has a way of sounding almost improvised at the same time. I don't think he could've gotten a more perfect take. Truly stunning to listen to. Anyone who skips the first minute of this song is really missing out. The guitar just greets you along It's journey. The melody is wandering and invites you to wander with it through this strange unknown journey that you will embark on together throughout this song. Yet it speaks to you like an old friend.

It's a little unfortunate that Sons of Anarchy cut the intro out when they used it. I understand why but I think it's an improper introduction to the song. At the same time I know it exposed a lot of people to the song so that's a win in my book. Regardless, the tremolo fingerstyle picking 1:00 in to the song is both beautiful and technically impressive. Mark Kozelek gives you both incredible songwriting and virtuosic playing. Something that I think will give this song legitimacy to even the harshest of critics. The best part about this virtuosic playing is that it doesn't feel forced. It's not trying to impress you. It's simply serving the song in the absolute best way. I don't think there is a songwriter cares less about impressing you than Mark Kozelek and even when he is being more technical it always feels so sincere.

At about 1:15 into the song we are finally met with the arrangement we are going to be experiencing for the better part of 5 minutes. I must add, I have spent an incomprehensible amount of time trying to learn how to play this song and this is probably the only part I feel fairly confident in playing. The paid "official" version on ultimate guitar does seem accurate and I do believe the correct tuning is C# G# C# D# A# C which even on it's own is such an incredible sound. Some kind of weird C# maj7sus2add6 kinda thing. I don't know what you would technically call it because I'm not the most schooled in that sorta thing but It's a very unique sound. If you do decide to use the official ultimate guitar tab to learn this song, I recommend using the sheet music as well as the tab so you can read the rhythms because they are tricky. Practice slow and to a click and make sure the 16th Note Triplets aren't rushed. If you rush them your thumb will have a hard time placing those bass notes in time. Something Mark is doing so effortlessly here it really is amazing.

Once this riff enters at 1:15, we are immediately taken away. The song gathers this momentum that is almost hard to explain. There is something urgent about this new tempo compared to what we've experienced thus far. The notes ascend and the open strings sing together exactly the way you feel like they should. Each one very articulate. Many of them just a whole step or half step apart from each other creating their own dissonances between the bass movements, harmony and top 2 droning strings. This is no longer a guitar part or a classical guitar improvisation. This is a real orchestration with real movement and voices playing with each other back and forth.

"No this is not my guitar
I'm bringing it to a friend
And no I don't sing
I'm only humming along"

Really? After playing all that impressive sh*t?? You're going to start the verse with a line like that? Honestly the nonchalant way that Mark does this sort of this just makes me really happy. It's extremely relatable. The last thing a guitarist wants to do is talk to another guitarist about gear in their free time. Especially at the airport. Talking about gear with some other guitarist is like talking about the weather. It's like something you talk about when you can't really open up with somebody about what kind of music you like. Idk I just like this line a lot. Growing up I was and still kind of am (despite it being my profession) hesitant to bring up the fact that I play music. It's just not something that 99% of people want to hear me talk about and I typically get along best with people who don't even really like music at all. It's just a weird thing for me. If I could release or play more music anonymously and still get paid I'd probably do it. I love these lines here because It's weird how some of us really like to fly under the radar and don't want any attention because it only gets in the way of building real relationships and being treated like a normal person not a musician first.

One of the things I love about this song is the way I feel like time stops while I listen to it. I love how that theme is mirrored in the lyrics. I feel like time sits still on a plane. The world below you is at least at the moment something you can't do much about. So you're stuck staring out of the window "mumblin' at the clouds."

My favorite line in the song by far is "Tonight you were my muse." I don't know what it is about that line but there is something just so sweet about it. If somebody said that to me I think we'd be friends forever. To say that to somebody sincerely is just such a compliment. I don't know why it's so cool to me. Either way, this is a fantastic song and I strongly recommend you give it a listen if you haven't heard it yet. Thank you for reading! Take care!