Sun Kil Moon – ‘Universal Themes’

Sun Kil Moon - 'Universal Themes'


Hot on the heels of last year's 'Benji', Mark Kozelek picks poetically over visa applications, acting roles and dead possums

It seemed for a while that Mark Kozelek would become best known for the spat he started with The War On Drugs when noise from their set bled into his at Canada’s Ottawa Folk Fest last September. The months since then have seen him further alienate fans and peers: last week, disturbing audio of him telling 1900 fans at a London show a female journalist “wants to fuck me” emerged, leading to accusations of misogyny. ‘Universal Themes’ at least finds the 48-year-old acting his age and doing what he does best: writing very long, very poetic songs about life, death and small woodland animals and singing them over sparse guitar backing.

Like most of the songs on this seventh album, opener ‘The Possum’ is a tumbling stream of consciousness that clocks in at over nine minutes. Much like ‘Ben’s My Friend’, from last year’s excellent, understated ‘Benji’, its heartfelt confessional tells the story of Kozelek’s trip to see a mate’s band play – in this case industrial metallers Godflesh rather than The Postal Service. At its heart, however, is a meditation on mortality inspired by seeing a dying possum, and the realisation that: “I want to grow old and to walk my last walk/ Knowing that I, too, gave it everything I got”.

Elsewhere, we accompany the Red House Painters founder on flights to and from Dordrecht, Holland on the mournful, dreamlike ‘Garden Of Lavender’. On the distortion-swathed ‘Ali/Spinks 2’, he reveals he thinks Steve Railsback, who played serial killers Charlie Manson inHelter Skelter and Ed Gein in In The Light Of The Moon, is the most underrated actor in the world. Sticking with cinema, several songs reference his recent casting in Youth a new film by Italian director Paolo Sorrentino. It seems no part of Kozelek’s inner monologue is deemed too mundane for inclusion – on ‘Birds Of Flims’ we hear about the time he spent filling out “an application for a work visa for Japan and Australia” over gracefully plucked guitar. In lesser hands, this sort of minutiae would grow tiresome, but Kozelek finds real transcendence in workaday observations.

Granted, every song is essentially a man reading his diary over frayed, weather-beaten guitar, but Kozelek spills his guts with immense artistry and opens up about everything. Well, nearly everything. The wait for ‘Woah, It Was Weird When I Was A Douche To The War On Drugs, Wasn’t It?’ continues.


Director: Mark Kozelek
Record label: Caldo Verde/Rough Trade
Release date: 01 Jun, 2015