Let’s put aside what an asshole Mark Kozelek has made himself out to be this year, and focus instead on the most intricate lyrical production I’ve ever heard, Benji.
I’ll admit, I’d never listened to Sun Kil Moon until Benji and my process with this one was as such: Pitchfork gives album high marks >>> I listen once >>>>I ignore it for 4-6 weeks >>> I listen again and read lyrics to “Richard Ramiez Died Today of Natural Causes” >>> Am blown away and dive deeper.
Kozelek ignores all conventional lyric formats and doesn’t feel the need to rhyme anything. It’s just one long strewn story and his excellent layered acoustic guitar plucking builds the tension in the story he’s telling like the score of a movie. The stories on Benji make you move closer to the edge of your seat as it progresses. Here, listen:
It’s a gripping tale of an 80’s-era mass murderer in the Bay area, who died in 2013 while on death row at San Quentin. It calls memories of Sufjan Stevens’ opus, “John Wayne Gacy Jr.” But Kozelek also shines for his guitar work. He’s a savant to say the least. His methods shift from classical to Spanish and beyond, as he weave within chords and tracks as intricately as his lyrics.
He sings about his Mother and Father with such love and adoration. “I Love My Dad” is the type of song that makes you want to call your old man just to see how he’s doing. “I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love” will warrant an “I love you” midnight text to Mom. She won’t know what hit her. Check these bars from “I Love My Dad”:
When I was a kid my dad brought home a guitar he got from Sears
I took lessons from a neighbor lady but it wasn’t going anywhere
He went and got me a good teacher
And in no time at all I was getting better
I can play just fine
I still practice a lot but not as much as Nels Cline
Love the Nels Cline/Wilco reference here. He’s kinda awkward, but his stories paint such a vivid picture of his breed of Americana; from his time in the Bay and his time on the East coast. It often feels tongue-in-cheek, but its wonderful smart and inventive songwriting.
The album closes with “Ben’s My Friend,” (which according to my Spotify Year in Music, I listened to more than any other track this year) a story about a day in San Francisco that leads to meeting frontman Ben Gibbard at a Postal Service show at the Greek theater in Berkeley. It’s seriously one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. Here:
I can’t get over his lyrics like “We ate at Perry’s and we ordered crab cakes……blue crab cakes…..blue crab cakes” It makes me smile and appreciate the little things in life, like fucking crab cakes at a cafe near the Embarcadero. There’s a beautiful saxophone that comes in midway through the track as Kozelek plucks away at the guitar. He waxes on what it feels like to be a forty-something at a concert and layers the vocal track on top of itself and opens the final verse with:
There’s a fine line between a middle-aged guy with a backstage pass
And a guy with a gut hanging around like a jackass
It’s such a witty observation, but it’s so real and the song is packed with words that describe the day and the events in detail. This album makes me smile at life’s mundane moments and it makes me incredibly emotional when thinking about family. But above all, it makes me feel, because Kozelek speaks from the heart.