Posts Tagged ‘Benji’

Mark Kozelek, who used to front an epically moody band called Red House Painters, is known as something of a jerk. Onstage, when not singing in a voice like crumbling granite, he says things that usually end up offending somebody: hipsters, women, journalists, the band on the next stage. But on the records he now releases as Sun Kil Moon, he examines his life with plain-spoken brutality, saving the most cutting remarks for himself.

“I Watched the Film the Song Remains the Same” occupies more than 10 minutes of “Benji,” the album he released in 2014. It begins as the story of the first time Kozelek saw the Led Zeppelin concert film “The Song Remains the Same” as a child; it ends as a song about nostalgia, chronic sadness and the way people drop in and out of your life. One moment Kozelek’s admiring the electric piano on “No Quarter”; the next, he’s sharing memories of being a “very melancholic kid,” or apologizing for the time he punched a classmate in school. The way he writes isn’t so different from Karl Ove Knausgaard, also in his late 40s; both men spent long careers skirting the spotlight, then found new renown when they started excavating their own biographies for details.

So on “Benji,” Kozelek sings about his relationship with his parents, about buying lampshades, about death. A second cousin’s death sets him thinking about family; James Gandolfini’s sets him thinking about his prostate troubles. He approaches each topic as if flipping through a disorganized photo album, and the more insular and lived-in the details, the more enthralling they seem. At the end of “I Watched the Film … ,” he says he’s headed to Santa Fe to visit a friend he hasn’t seen in 15 years. Close Googlers can deduce that friend must be Ivo Watts-Russell, who signed Red House Painters to his 4AD label back in 1992; Kozelek, grave and grateful, says he’s going to New Mexico just to say thank you.

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“Benji” is the sixth studio album by American indie folk act Sun Kil Moon, released in February 2014 on Caldo Verde Records. Self-produced by primary recording artist Mark Kozelek, the album shares its name with the 1974 film Benji, and was recorded between March and August 2013 at Hyde Street Studios in San Francisco.

Kozelek’s songs match a mordant sensibility with a wry wit that remains unblunted by the passage of time. The sprawling ‘Among The Leaves’ from 2012 saw him playfully subverting the album format with a 17-track opus that included one song with an 18-word title. This time round, the humour is more subtle but the observations on life, and increasingly death, are no less keen. Kozelek has a novelist’s eye for detail, and right from languid opener ‘Carissa’ – a song about his second cousin – he paints a vivid world and invites you to see it through his eyes.

The ideas come so thick and fast that Kozelek has to speed up his delivery for songs like ‘Richard Ramirez Died Today Of Natural Causes’, a claustrophobic meditation on the death of the serial killer known as the Night Stalker that recalls Modest Mouse at their darkest.
The album features contributions from Owen Ashworth, Jen Wood, Will Oldham, and Sonic Youth‘s Steve ShelleyThe album was recognized as one of The 100 Best Albums of the year by Rolling Stone,

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Mark Kozelek’s songwriting sure has evolved a lot over the years since the early days of Red House Painters. In recent years the slowcore founding father’s transformation has been especially evident, and nowhere is that truer than “Ben’s My Friend,” the closing track from the forthcoming Sun Kil Moon album “Benji” . Kozelek has always leaned toward the plainspoken as a lyricist he writes what appear to be basically a series of detail-laden short stories all seem to be autobiographical, with songs such as “Sunshine In Chicago” functioning as play-by-play travelogues. That’s truer than ever on “Ben’s My Friend.” As with the other songs we’ve heard from “Benji” especially “Richard Ramirez Died Today Of Natural Causes,” adopted the syllable-cramming cadence of his trusted muse Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock, but this time out Kozelek’s traded Brock’s quirky, effects-laden guitar squeals for saxophone-infused mid tempo lounge styled sounds. It exists in an entirely different sonic universe from the stone-faced melodrama of Red House Painters’ “Have You Forgotten” or even the spare acoustic plucking of Sun Kil Moon’s Modest Mouse covers album. There are a lot of ways to sing a sad song with an acoustic guitar!

Kozelek’s latest sonic realm is the background for a story about Kozelek going to see the Postal Service. He feels old amongst a crowd of 8,000 twentysomethings, and tinges of jealousy spring up when he thinks back to when he first met Ben Gibbard at a festival in Spain in 2000, when his band was outdrawing Gibbard’s. Hearing a line like “The other night, I saw the Postal Service/ Ben’s my friend, but getting there was the worst” in a song .

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Sun Kil Moon album titled  “Benji” on  Caldo Verde Records

There are 5,287 words of lyrics on this album, the delivery of which sounds at first stream-of-conscious, but clearly isn’t: Themes double back on themselves after long digressions, while details about family and friends crop up in multiple places, the whole thing coming off like an epic poem some enterprising comp-lit major might compare to Ulysses. But then the music is disarmingly straightforward: On most of the songs, it’s as swollen and sluggish as rain clouds. Harmonies and double-tracked vocals, pianos and light drums.

Mark Kozelek in the twenty-first century has insights as compelling as those he gave us in the late twentieth century, and an indication of an enduring creative figure is surely that ability to translate perception into a new – but no less vital – language.  but few would deny its winter-sharp clarity. On “Benji, Kozelek is at least as piercing and persuasive as in his best output over the last two decades.

Benji was truly out on its own in 2014. At the heart of the album was a stunning breed of open-book lyricism, mundanities like Postal Service reunion shows or ordering crab cakes appear in the same libretto as death by accident fire and first sexual experiences. All these chronicles exist against Mark Kozelek’s backdrop of keeping guitars and sprawling instrumentation. Simultaneously one of the year’s most gut-wrenching and and most liberating LPs,