Sun Kil Moon – ‘Benji’

Death, envy and serial killers make magical material for the prolific ex-Red House Painter

Can old dogs learn new tricks? ‘Benji’ is Mark Kozelek’s sixth album under the Sun Kil Moon moniker, or his 12th if you include the Red House Painters records they follow – and that’s not counting two collaborative albums last year. With such a prodigious work rate, a man could be forgiven for losing his edge.

Kozelek’s songs match a mordant sensibility with a wry wit that remains unblunted by the passage of time. The sprawling ‘Among The Leaves’ from 2012 saw him playfully subverting the album format with a 17-track opus that included one song with an 18-word title. This time round, the humour is more subtle but the observations on life, and increasingly death, are no less keen. Kozelek has a novelist’s eye for detail, and right from languid opener ‘Carissa’ – a song about his second cousin – he paints a vivid world and invites you to see it through his eyes.

The ideas come so thick and fast that Kozelek has to speed up his delivery for songs like ‘Richard Ramirez Died Today Of Natural Causes’, a claustrophobic meditation on the death of the serial killer known as the Night Stalker that recalls Modest Mouse at their darkest.

Mortality haunts the record, particularly on highlight ‘Micheline’ where Kozelek is joined by Jen Wood, who you may remember from The Postal Service’s ‘Nothing Better’. It’s a tale about loss, including the death of his grandmother, that is beautiful in its raw honesty. Closer ‘Ben’s My Friend’ is just as candid, but sees Kozelek turning his gaze to artistic rivalry and his old pal Ben Gibbard, who he goes to see perform with The Postal Service. As he watches him “busting moves” to “a crowd of 8,000” at the Greek Theatre, he considers the divergent paths their careers have taken.

On this evidence, Kozelek has nothing to be jealous of. ‘Benji’ is as magical as an old dog suddenly performing card tricks. It might not get him a gig at the Greek, but if you’re looking for the truth you’ve come to the right place.

Kevin EG Perry