Sometimes, when in the process of listening to a Mark Kozelek album, you begin to think he would’ve been a great novelist. There might not be a songwriter out there today that is able to wax as elegantly as Kozelek about both the profound and the mundane, usually within just a few lines of each other. It’s on Kozelek’s long running project Sun Kil Moon’s sixth album, Benji that he perhaps accomplishes this best.
Though most of the content of Benji deals with tragedy and sadness, Kozelek eloquently is able to slip in humorous bits here and there that lighten things up. Kozelek somehow fits in Panera Bread in not one, but two songs, and also mentions coming home crying from school as a kid because he was sat next to an albino.
Though some of the tracks are musically what you’d come to expect from Kozelek dating back to his days as the lead man in popular ‘90s band Red House Painters, his songwriting has sharpened and musically, he’s showing a bit more diversity. Though lyrically, the album reads as though it’s one long interconnected story, musically it doesn’t sound like one long song. The final track, “Ben’s My Friend” sounds as different from any Kozelek song as you’ll recall, feeling a bit jazzy in its execution.
WHY WE DIG HIM: Almost any musician will say they drew from personal experience when writing, but Kozelek takes it to another level. He is so specific in his songwriting that, in the process of listening to Benji, you come away feeling as though you know a man you never met on a deep and profound level. “When she’s gone I’ll miss how slowly she walks / Playing scrabble with the chimes of the grandfather clock / I’ll even miss the times that we fought / But mostly I’ll miss being able to call her and talk”, Kozelek sings in “I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love”, a song about the difficult thought about having to lose his mother someday.
“Carissa” – Kozelek details the story of a cousin of his he had grown up knowing as a wild child in the opening song on Benji. He admits to forgetting about her after leaving Ohio, only to found out she had passed away tragically in a fire after having gotten her life together. Though some would think a song like this would sound exploitive, Kozelek doesn’t even come close to going that route. Kozelek not only discusses his cousin, but the need to travel for the funeral and learn as much as he could, and be with family. It’s a feeling everyone deals with at some point or another in their life, and Kozelek puts it beautifully.
“I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love”- This is one of the most beautiful tributes to one’s mother that you’ll ever hear. In that song, Kozelek details all the things he could live without, and things he could endure before he could ever live without his mother.
“Ben’s My Friend” – The most lighthearted song on the album, Kozelek relates going to a Postal Service concert as he’s friends with Ben Gibbard. In that song, Kozelek details being a bit competitive and feeling out of place at the gig amongst 8,000 mostly really young kids. This occurs as Kozelek is dealing with a bit of writer’s block as he’s finishing up his album. The jazzy sound to the track lends itself to the light nature of the track (in comparison to other songs on the album, at least).
THREE WORDS TO DESCRIBE SUN KIL MOON: Melancholy – Storytelling – Authentic
INTERESTING TIDBIT: Sun Kil Moon draws its name from a Korean boxer named Sung-Kil Moon, who tragically died following a bad beating in the ring. Kozelek is an avid boxing fan and has often written songs about boxers. As a boxing writer first, I was able to interview Kozelek a few years ago about his love affair with the sport. On Benji, there is only one reference to boxing, where Kozelek relates being knocked down by his father quicker than Mike Tyson knocked down Ricky Sveen in “I Love My Dad”. Previously, he’s written a number of songs about fighters, mostly ones that passed away too soon.
UPCOMING SHOWS: March 1st at First Unitarian Church. Grab your tickets here!
Sun Kil Moon new album, “Benji” was released this week on Feb. 11 via Caldo Verde Records. You can order it here.
Words: Mark E. Ortega