[sic] Magazine

Sun Kil Moon – Benji

The word “prolific” does not come anywhere close to doing justice to the musical output of Mark Kozelek. The great man put out two fabulous collaborative albums in 2013. Firstly the sublime electronica of Perils from the Sea with Jimmy LaValle from Album Leaf and the more rocking album with Desertshore including its wry musical attacks on Wilco‘s Nels Cline. Quite what the difference is nowadays between a Kozelek solo album and a Sun Kil Moon release is contestable, But who cares? Kozelek makes the music that touches your soul, makes you deeply reflect on your nearest and dearest, tells you that the human journey totters on disappointment and near collapse, but that in the end it’s contact with family, friends, colleagues and comrades that makes it a road worth travelling.

Benji is by a country mile Kozelek’s most personal album. Like a male version of Joni Mitchell he has no terrors in laying bare his deepest emotions and fears. In particular it is an album infused with death or at least the fear of it. Any one whose parents provide the anchor of stability in life will be drawn to two great Kozelek songs present “I Can’t Live Without My Mothers Love” and “I Love My Dad”. The first song is a touching paean to his dear mum who he admits “is the closest friend I have in my life” but he fears that when she departs the earth that “I won’t have the courage to sort through her things; I cannot bear all the pain it will bring”. How wonderful to see a male songwriter confront his feelings of love for his dearest relative. “I Love My Dad” is more of a traditional rock ‘n’ roll song but is filled with similar sentiments around what was clearly a more difficult relationship (and another Nels Cline dig).

Travel through others parts of the album and there is the 10 minute plus ode to Led Zeppelin “I Watched The Film Song Remains The Same” – one of the greatest fan letters ever set to music where he admits that “what spoke to him most was Rain Song and Bron y Aur”. Yet like all Kozelek songs it spirals into other areas weaving imagery about lost friends, not least Chris Waller who died in a motorcycle accident at the age of 13. There are classic Kozelek songs here to spare with his note to Death Cab for Cutie main man Ben Gibbard, “Ben Is My Friend’ being an affectionate jazzy affair. Opener “Carissa” echoes the reflective Spanish guitar mood of “Admiral Fell Promises”, while the tragic victims of the Sandy Hook shooting are the focus of the melancholy of the sad “Pray For Newtown”. One song, “Dogs”, alludes to Kozelek’s fumbling teenage love life but most poignant of all is the song about his grandmother, “Micheline”, and the affect of her death.

None of this sounds like a barrel of laughs and accepting Kozelek’s many idiosyncrasies may be the only way to enjoy this record. If you can you will find this brilliant, confessional music with the 47 year old Kozelek unafraid to stray into territory that usually is the bare-bones preserve of intimate family or personal history. The presence of Will Oldham on backing vocals adds to this mood. Kozelek has been hinting at this approach in previous albums but no Sun Kil Moon album gets any where as near as “Benji” to such deeply intimate backdrops in describing the impact of the randomness of fate on our daily beings. This is a vulnerable, heart wrenching, mature and wise album from one of the greatest American songwriters breathing oxygen.