Sun Kil Moon's Mark Kozelek grapples with life and death on his rawest, most intimate album yet
"Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes" tells the story of the California serial killer dying on his own terms, while "Pray for Newtown" eulogizes shooting victims who met their ends too soon. "Dogs" explores the dark side of young love, in all its humiliation and emotional turmoil, with startling intimacy and brutal honesty. The boomer-rock of "I Love My Dad" mercifully, yet briefly, lightens the mood, while the record's 10-minute centerpiece, "I Saw the Film the Song Remains the Same" strikes a gorgeous balance between the central themes of brooding meditations on death, and casual observations of life.
"The way this song drifts in and out of different realities and memories is a lot like the movies," Kozelek wrote in a recent piece for the New York Times, "weaving documentary, imagination and memory throughout, always coming back to the music."
"I loved the thunder of John Bonham's drums," Kozelek sings, describing his experience watching Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains the Same at the theater as a teenager, "but even more I liked 'No Quarter''s low Fender Rhodes hum." In reflecting upon his preference for Zeppelin's balladry over its rock pyrotechnics, he draws a connection to the melancholy that has defined his life from a young age. From the deaths of relatives and mere acquaintances that continue to haunt him, to his first record deal, with the similarly downcast 4AD label that helped reinforce his identity, Kozelek expands on one small anecdote to encompass the profundities of life, with a deftness of prose that his entire career has seemingly been working toward.
In spite of occasional contributions from singer-songwriter Will Oldham, former Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, and Advance Base keyboardist Owen Ashworth, Kozelek's nylon-string fingerpicking remains squarely at the heart of this record, along with the ever-increasing rasp of his voice. More than any album in Kozelek's deep catalog, Benji lends itself intuitively to his solo live strategy, making this coming Saturday's Noise Pop appearance at the Great American Music Hall absolutely essential to understanding the inspiration and motivation behind one of the Bay Area's finest living songwriters.
Noise Pop: An Evening with Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon & Red House Painters
Sat/1, 8pm, $28
Great American Music Hall
859 O'Farrell, SF