Sad bastard music is usually a pretty hard sell, even for an admittedly sad bastard like myself. I’d venture to guess that this is because most people find solace in music as a joyful escape from the mundane realities of everyday life. Benji, the latest record from Sun Kil Moon, however embraces these mundane realities, while also exploring the inevitable stench of death that comes with getting older. But more than anything, it’s an album that sees singer Mark Kozelek taking every little ponderous thought in his head and putting them into these songs with an earnestness and a poignancy that’s hard to deny.
First off, I’ll admit that I had no previous knowledge of Kozelek’s former group Red House Painters, or his current solo project Sun Kil Moon. And yet after listening to Benji, I feel like I know Kozelek about as well as you could possibly know someone that you’ve never met. And it’s the specificity of his lyrical approach here that makes this possible. Benji is filled with countless memories of Kozelek’s childhood in Ohio, his ruminations on middle-age, and his reflections on his parents and how thankful he is for their presence in his life. They’re the type of things I couldn’t possibly imagine a younger songwriter singing about, and I think it’s Kozelek’s embrace of the wisdom that comes with age — rather than running from it like so many other aging musicians — that makes this album remarkable.
I guess my only complaint with Benji is that the album starts off so decidedly dark, with lead-off track “Carissa” reflecting on the death of a family member, while things get even more death-obsessed with “Pray For Newtown”. But at the same time, it’s cool to see that the album follows a kind of tonal arc, with the songs slowly getting more light-hearted as the album progresses. These cracks of light in the face of darkness then culminates in the album’s final track — the bordline-jazzy “Ben’s My Friend”, which sees Kozelek reflecting on what’s gotten him to where he’s at, while still just trying to take things one day at a time.
Favorite Tracks: “Jim Wise”, “Micheline”, “Ben’s My Friend”