American folk/rock act Sun Kil Moon (consisting of sole member Mark Kozelek) has been sharing life experiences with us for over a decade now, but latest instalment Benji demonstrates the darker and more personal side of mortality. Kozelek’s songwriting ability as a folk artist is exceptional, each song listed on the new album takes us on an autobiographical journey. Kozelek named the album in relation to a fond memory of when he went and saw the movie Benji, and it just seems so fitting because the ongoing theme would make an awing feature film.
With the heart wrenching Carissa, we are introduced to the album with a tale about a relative who met her untimely death. It is extremely hard to ignore the emotion in Kozelek’s voice as he rambles on through the nitty gritty details of Carissa’s demise and the impact the event had on his life; the entire sound of the song is so raw that you can’t help but feel a part of the tragedy. On a lighter note, I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love is a wonderful ode to Kozelek’s mother, who at 75 years old is still his best friend.
Truck Driver was allegedly the first song written to be featured on Benji, previously a reject from Kozelek’s previous project with the Deepshores; yet another track about a life ending in tragedy. We get a sexual insight to Kozelek’s past flings in catchy tune Dogs, whilst Pray For Newtown demonstrates Kozelek’s passion for victims of crime; he begs people to pray for the victims of the Newtown massacre, again, sung with enough emotion to get you involved. Unfortunately, one song that didn’t seem to hit the mark as much was I Watched The Film the Song Remained The Same, which went for a whopping 10 minutes; the feel of the track was great, but it did not feel there was enough substance to warrant all those minutes. Still, you can not question Kozelek’s artistic direction towards the purpose of the song’s length, we can be sure he had his reasons.
The overall sound of the album meets the folk/rock genre criteria, with simple melodies/harmonies and focus on Kezelek’s vocals and lyrics in order for the stories to be told successfully. Even when many instruments are present, Benji‘s soundscape still seems to have that raw and emotional feel to it. There is the perfect balance between the lighter and darker feeling tracks, and that is what we should expect from such an album; we need to be connected to this genre emotionally as we listen as it is the only way to truly understand the concept. Kezelek has mastered channeling his genre through Benji.
Almost each track within Benji is notable, there is so much going on lyrically and emotionally that it makes it hard to disregard any song listed on the album. If this review was to consist of mini-reviews based on all eleven songs featured on Benji, it would go on forever. So to sum up Sun Kil Moon’s latest release, it covered everything a good folk album needs; a theme/concept, a great stripped down sound, songs that tell stories and a journey. There is a lot of reminiscing going on in Benji, whether darkly or lightly themed, and the album should be viewed as an invitation into what it feels like and sounds like to be Mark Kozelek.