Words About Music
Sun Kil Moon “Benji”
Few artists who make so-called “sad” or “depressing” music are able to make music of that mood for such a long time without appearing gimmicky or pretentious. Emo bands often only last a few years (or in some cases a few months) before breaking up. A lot of the original 90s and 2000s slowcore and sadcore bands—Codeine, Carissa’s Wierd, Slint, Bedhead—have stopped recording new material or broken up entirely. The same cannot be said about enduring artist Mark Kozelek, though. Kozelek formed his band Red House Painters in the late 80s, and ever since their 1992 debut “Down Colorful Hill,” he’s released a steady stream of musical heartbreak and tearjerk. Red House Painters had some great albums under their belt, specifically their first three, but the band eventually fell apart in the early 2000s. It was then that Kozelek started his solo project Sun Kil Moon, named after Korean boxer Moon Sung-Kil. While I haven’t been the hugest fan of this project in the past, I must say that the 6th Sun Kil Moon album “Benji” is my favorite thus far.
Let me begin by saying that this is by no means a happy album. Sure there’s a few lighthearted anecdotes with bits of humor, but for the most part it’s a nostalgic journey through Mark’s life and all the death he’s encountered. Some of the deaths on this album include his 2nd cousin Carissa, 80s serial killer Richard Ramirez, the children of Newtown, his neighbors, his uncle, James Gandolfini, and a friend who dies from an aneurysm triggered by a cringe-worthy guitar playing technique. There’s a lot of death on this album. And even when he’s talking about the deaths of people we don’t know and maybe we don’t like he is able to instill very strong feelings of sadness in the listener.
Kozelek is one of music’s best modern storytellers. He really does his best to make the listener feel like they were there when he lost his virginity or when he punched a kid in the face at school. I feel like I’m listening to Mark’s autobiography whenever I play this album, and as sad as it is nearly 100% of the time it doesn’t make the album any less moving or compelling. This is an album I don’t mind listening to because it feels like all of life captured in an album from the non-linear perspective of one perspective. Kozelek is not afraid to admit his mistakes and his shortcomings, and he apologizes for basically all of them. His flashbulb memory helps paint an extremely vivid picture of emotions, friends, and places. Mark is surprisingly capable of remembering exactly where he was when he hears about school shootings and deaths and that makes the record even more realistic.
Even more fascinating than the lyrics and the stories is the overall atmosphere of the record. Mark’s trademark baritone voice and his light guitar playing add to the solemnity of the sadder songs, while drumming from Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley and background vocals from Will Oldham add layers and energy to the punchier songs. One of the best songs on the album, though, is the closing track “Ben’s My Friend.” It is about Mark’s friendship with Death Cab for Cutie and Postal Service vocalist Ben Gibbard and how it relaxes him during the times when he worries about his age and his parents. If anything, “Benji” as a whole is a life lesson. The world is not a happy place, but having good people in your life can make your world a happy place, even if we’re all going to die anyway. “Benji” is a wild ride of emotional nostalgia and death for most of its duration, but with its relaxing and actually upbeat closer, it should have you feeling satisfied with life and yourself.
SCORE – 8.7
FAVORITE TRACKS – Carissa, I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love, Dogs, Pray For Newtown, I Love My Dad, I Watched The Film The Song Remains the Same, Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes, Micheline, Ben’s My Friend