Sun Kil Moon

Benji

Written by: LF on 19/08/2014 15:30:09

Sun Kil Moon out of San Francisco, CA, is the current primary moniker of American singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek, who was previously the driving force of Red House Painters. He has released albums under his own name as well, and those records are much like the releases from Sun Kil Moon filled to the brim with emotional folk rock songs. He has always been an unparalleled lyricist and songsmith, but since the first Sun Kil Moon release in 2003, he has come a long way. Cue sixth album "Benji" which most prominently features himself and his guitars and the occasional saxophone or xylophone. A number of guests star on the album with Will Oldham and Jenn Wood helping out on vocals, while Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth) and Owen Ashworth help out on drums and piano respectively. On "Benji" Kozelek seems to have taken his songwriting to an entirely new level, describing some pretty dark experiences in a very naked language, stripped of metaphor and the like, and supporting this expression with an at times almost barren instrumental landscape.

As referenced in my absolute favorite song of the record, the dreamy sounding and melancholic "Micheline", the album takes its name from the 1974 feel-good movie "Benji" about a dog that rescues two kidnapped children – a favorite of Kozelek's which he connects with peaceful times in his past. Kozelek explained this in an interview over at Pitchfork.com and also added that he wanted a light title to contrast the darkness in the record. When listening through an emotional folk rock album like this, where every story in every song takes its offset in what Kozelek reveals is all real experiences concerning death or mortality, the title certainly stands as a stark contrast. For me it adds a sort of childish perspective to the very serious subject matter, that connects well with the almost reportage-like way Kozelek describes the grim happenings in his songs, for example in the following chorus lines from "Jim Wise", that are sung on a simple and almost optimistic melody: "Jim Wise mercy killed his wife in a hospital at her bedside / And he put the gun to his head and it jammed and he didn't die / He went to a trial all summer long and his eyes welled up when he told us / About how much she loved the backyard garden and the budding rosebush".

The instrumental backing to these sad stories varies in intensity. From only subtle guitars on the incredibly beautiful "I Watched The Film The Song Remains The Same" filled with childhood memories; over the layered and ominous "Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes" about the death of a serial killer; to a full band that swings away in songs like "I Love My Dad" and "Ben's My Friend", the latter concerning Kozelek's friendship with musician Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie and The Postal Service. In "I Watched The Film...", Kozelek further lets his emotions well over in his voice just slightly more than on previous tracks, and this combined with the intricate guitars makes for an absolutely enchanting result. I find it interesting that this song has a very similar sound to opening track "Carissa" which describes the tragic death of his second cousin, but that he sings in very different ways. In the opener his voice is involved emotionally in a much more subtle way, but it is no less expressive than the later song. This makes for a great example of Kozelek's ability to convey deep emotions through his precise combinations of truly haunting lyrics with simple song structures and instrumentation, no matter if he sounds distant or involved.

The album overall is definitely a gem and it has the curious ability to suck its listener in with stronger force for every time it's heard again. It's a comforting record, despite how it's filled up with tragic destinies, but maybe also because of it. Although the stories are real and communicated with sparse instrumentals and a naked and honest use of language, the songs of "Benji" are able to communicate and spontaneously connect in a way that turns them into striking emotional metaphors on their own. Furthermore, every song on the album seems to have its place in the expression, each one adding its own facet to the grand total that is "Benji".

Download: Micheline, Carissa, Jim Wise, I Watched The Film The Song Remains The Same
For The Fans Of: Mark Kozelek, Eels, Wilco, Death Cab For Cutie
Listen: facebook.com

Release date 11.02.2014
Caldo Verde Records

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