Sun Kil Moon | ARTIST
Benji | ALBUM
Caldo Verde | LABEL
11 February 2014 | RELEASE DATE
9.1 | 10
Mark Kozelek’s career as Sun Kil Moon has been steady enough, allowing the singer-songwriter to pursue his musical goals ever since his Red House Painters project disbanded in 2001. On the newly released Benji, Kozelek scores his biggest musical triumph yet, with the album’s 11 tracks representing his most poetic, introspective, and honest lyrical content, and arrangements that allow for each word to leave an impression.
There’s a saying in screenwriting circles that suggests the most dramatic scenes in film are those in which death is in the room. Death all but consumes the subjects of Benji’s track list, leaving Kozelek to put the pieces together and make some sense of all the death and turmoil around him. On “Carissa,” the title-character dies in a freak house fire, leaving Kozelek to ruminate, “You don’t just raise two kids and take out your trash and die.” As base as that assessment sounds, it painfully explores the mundanity of life. Somewhere, Kozelek believes that’s exactly what life is.
“I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love” and “I Love My Dad” both honor the people that raised him, and find Kozelek appreciative of an upbringing that’s unfortunately not the case for many. “My life is pretty good,” he sings on “Dad.” And while that is arguably the least poetic he gets on Benji, it’s a reminder of the simple pleasures of childhood and how feelings can be boiled down to a simple statement such as “my life is pretty good.”
Kozelek is a masterful wordsmith, and something about Benji gives him the soapbox to display some outstanding lyrical work. “Dogs” is an ode to the Pink Floyd Animals cut of the same name, with Kozelek reminiscing on his youthful sexual escapades, one of which was soundtracked by the Pink Floyd track. He does a remarkable job of wading through the song, coming up with fresh discoveries as if he’s living these memories for the first time.
When the album hits the homestretch, it can be difficult to get through, if only because the album’s last four tracks were all released prior to the album’s street date. They still house some of the album’s best moments, especially the closing “Ben’s My Friend” and “I Watched the Film The Song Remains the Same.” “Friend” is a perfect closer, finding Kozelek reflecting on not only the album, while also highlighting his innate ability to turn words and phrases that don’t necessarily pop off the page into the most vital and thrilling aspects of their respective tracks. And it’s “I Watched the Film The Song Remains the Same” that pulls the rest of the album into its gravitational pull, serving as the centerpiece on an album full of highlights. The album time-and-time again reinforces the notion that life can change in a hurry. Benji, then, is an admirable tribute to those lost and those found, to those loved and those unknown. The song may remain the same, but nothing else ever will.