When deciding which albums to place in my top ten of last year (2014) there were a number that deserved a place without any doubt nor discussion. Mark Kozelek, under the pseudonym Sun Kil Moon, released one of the most emotionally demanding and yet fulfilling albums of the year. On this album Benji, Mark’s 6th solo release, the loves, lives, fights and deaths of a series of people are faced head on. He does not mince words here and the 11 songs are personal tales of all that makes us human in the true sense of the word.
On these songs he does not speak down to the listener nor does he give us any slick easy answers. Instead on this truly exceptional and heartfelt singer songwriter album he simply tells us their stories. And what well crafted stories they are with detail, emotional impact and complexity. When one is listening to these songs the lyrics draw us in to the lives and deaths of these people. Yes, in these songs many people meet their sometimes tragic and untimely end. However despite the sadness inherent in these songs it is done in such a way that we find ourselves entertained by what we are hearing.
I was initially struck by the lyrics on these songs and from the opening song ‘Carissa’ realised that here was an album that was worthy of my full attention. The opening line introduces us to his talent as a storyteller when we hear, ‘Carissa, when I first saw you, you were a lovely child/And the last time I saw you, you were 15 pregnant and running wild’, and we know we are on to something special. Then later another line or couplet or verse such as ‘And when my kid’s eighteen/He’ll be out there like I was and probably chasing his dreams/And when your kid’s twenty two/ He’ll have an internship at a law firm and hey that’s ok too.’ Meaningful and truthful lyrics that reveal more to us on repeated listening.
Musically the whole album can be described as being beautiful and a pleasure to listen to. It is also an album that reveals more and more of its levels on each subsequent listen. Here is an album that you will not tire of quickly. The music is diverse with calming tender passages of harmonizing as well as more poppy and rough hewn rock songs. In fact the stand out track reflects Kozelek’s love for classic rock in it’s title, ‘I watched the Film ‘The Song Remains the Same’, an acknowledgement of the impact Led Zeppelin have had on his musical development. A musically satisfying album then that is a joy from start to finish.
To my mind 2014 was a year of great rock music with many albums worthy of your time and attention being released every month. This album, despite the fact that the songs are mainly sad, is an uplifting, inspiring and beautiful work of art and Mark Kozelek/Sun Kil Moon has recorded one of the finest singer songwriter albums I have heard for a very long time.
Islwyn Paul Mainwaring