A considerable amount of current music is a poetic projection of emotions or beliefs anchored to a repeated refrain. Sometimes artists offer such abstract lyrics that listeners are left questioning the meaning in its entirety. On Sun Kil Moon’s new album Benji, Mark Kozelek rejects this popular trend and retreats to folk origins by putting his personal stories to delicate, intricate finger-picking guitar melodies that characterize the entire LP’s style.
Kozelek provides listeners with more than a handpicked selection of stories; each song has the recurring theme of death. This death comes in many forms: freak accidents and natural causes, mass shootings and the ordinary death of intimacy. A collection of intimate stories and emotional ballads are presented and interconnected to create an anthology of stories that display the ubiquity of death.
It’s difficult to detect anger in Kozelek’s voice when he’s faced with death. Instead, his tone is casual and conversational with accompaniments by elaborate but repetitive guitar melodies. Created is an alternate reality in which the listener sits by his side to hear a friend disclose an intimate story. Songs like “Carissa” and “Truck Driver” speak to this phenomenon as Kozelek’s gentle, throaty voice softly discloses the tragic deaths of his relatives.
Benji further recedes from musical norms by the recurring insistence to place emphasis on the story before the melodies or rhythms of his songs. With rising popularity of electronic music that focuses solely on dropping a variety of intense beats, it’s refreshing to see an album that retreats into its lyrics and uses the melody to enhance. In the emotional ballad “Dogs,” which describes in great detail Kozelek’s sexual encounters, a more dynamic and aggressive melody is coupled with the passion and lust in Kozelek’s voice. To accompany his humorous memories with his dad in “I Love My Dad,” he uses a light-hearted guitar melody to create a spirited tone. Kozelek creates melodies that retain his elegance with the guitar, but are placed in the background as to not overshadow his stories.
The unusual manner in which Kozelek rejects current trends and decides to create a compilation of interconnected, intimate stories offers listeners a new image of music. Sun Kil Moon has explored the use of stories as song in previous albums, but Benji is the first that completely rejects the refrain and fluidly shares its narratives.
4.5 out of 5 stars