With three releases only last year, Mark Kozelek, former head of 90s slowcore-institution RED HOUSE PAINTERS, certainly is one of the most prolific songwriters nowadays. But contrary to what you might think, KOZELEK just keeps getting better and better while speeding up with his creative process. One can’t help but state that this man is highly gifted. With Benji, the sixth album under his SUN KIL MOON-moniker, he now once more outweighs anything he’s done before; and meanwhile makes it seem effortless. Probably, these eleven songs are the most beautiful and touching thing you’ll hear in 2014, if not for years to come.
Compared to the erratic self-observation on the latest SUN KIL MOON-record Among The Leaves, Benji acts way more focussed, contemplating about death in its various and highly personal shades. There’s the opener Carissa, telling the story of his second cousin who died way too early in “senseless tragedy”: “Carissa was 35/ You don’t just raise two kids and take out your trash and die” – here you got the vibe of the record right away. There’s a ton of destiny all over the melancholic sketches KOZELEK lays out. But, as absurd all the tragedy seems to be (Carissa died due to an exploded aerosol can in the trash), there is a sense of realness to it that you can’t ignore. KOZELEK himself recently stated: “Strange things happen within families, in small towns…” and this is exactly what Benji feels like – the unmasked version of life (and death), highlighting the odd and insane things that we all like to displace but that are happening all the time, somewhere, to someone.
The Pray For Newtown circles around the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love and I Love My Dad – two love declarations in their most true and honest form – essentially articulate KOZELEK’s fear of loosing his parents, Richard Ramirez Died Today Of Natural Causes delivers a more harsh and bluesy reflection about the infamous serial killer Richard Ramirez who died last year – you could go on like that and still won’t be getting the fascinating point from which KOZELEK observes these things. It’s the point of view of a restless songwriter who knows only one way to deal with all this: making music. “I make music to process – because I have to, not for praise or accolades or reactions”, KOZELEK said in an interview, destilling what his art is about: immediacy. Directness. Constant motion.
Moreover, Benji musically sees some of his best work in years, with contributions from SONIC YOUTH-drummer STEVE SHELLEY and WILL OLDHAM, a.o. The once more impressive picking skills on his nylon-stringed guitar infrequently are topped by multi-layered voice-textures (Ben’s my friend) and some rare band-instrumentations (Dogs). KOZELEK is confident enough though – after all this years in the business of making music – to weave his lyrics a suitable, only seemingly puristic musical outfit. Seemingly, because you can get lost in the musical references as well, if you like to (his hilarious potshots to WILCO-guitarist NELS CLINE are a reappearing theme now and, as we learn, he’s a good friend of DEATH CAB’s Ben Gibbard).
Asked for what he plans to do after putting out this masterpiece, KOZELEK recently replied: “The next record will blow your fucking mind – trust me.” – the scary thing is: one is willing to believe that. As long as there is life in him, MARK KOZELEK will soothe us with his music; including all the struggles and writing issues one faces while making it. A pleasant feeling, because there’s nothing that could resonate in us like these songs do. Hats off to the best songwriter alive!
Marking his sixth record as SUN KIL MOON, Mark Kozelek’s ‘Benji’ is nothing short of an amazing, touching and wise musical journey throughout the valleys of life and death.
NBHAP Rating: 4,5/5