Review Summary: Death inspires the band's best work in years.
You're going to die. Everyone you know will die. Everyone you will ever meet will die. Everyone they know will die. Everyone you love, the girl who smiled at you while you waited in line for coffee last week and the oddly cheery stranger offering a sympathetic smile as your umbrella breaks again: they're all going to die too. Look at you sitting there in front of a screen. Dying. You're basically a breathing compost heap waiting to happen.
It's a constant surprise Mark Kozelek knows anyone left alive. Death and ageing are a frequent presence in his lyrical narrative and Benji
begins with yet another funeral. Carissa, a distant second-cousin Kozelek hadn't seen for two decades, was consumed by flames when an aerosol can exploded in a trash bag she carried outside. The same way his uncle went, we're told. It sets the tone for an album obsessed with death, its effects and everything it makes you think about. You weren't looking for an album to cheer you up, were you"
The characteristic meander of his lyrics really come into their own here as Kozelek slowly weaves regret and fear into arguably his most powerful narratives yet. As usual, he's surprisingly honest: repeating how terrified he is by the prospect of his parents' impending death and describing the pains of growing older. When sex comes up (as it must always do in a Kozelek project) it's rushed, ugly and brutally graphic: speeding through his early sexual encounters to conclude it all as a "complicated mess."
Worryingly, it's the only point on Benji where the focus is on life; he doesn't seem impressed. In contrast the focus on death borders on obsessive.
Hats are off for the band, who supply some excellent moods for Kozelek to cry to. Opener "Carissa" rolls with a gloomy guitar loop somehow managing to toe the line between dreary and apathetically beautiful. The tone is perfect: conjuring up the reality of death's wake before the lyrics even begin. A later country-inspired jam is equally apt when it captures the old school father-son relationship described in "I Love My Dad," and the lighthearted jingle of "Jim Wise" cunningly sets you up for the line "he put the gun to his head and it jammed and he didn't die."
While beautiful, all eyes remain on Kozelek and his lyrics: the rest of Sun Kil Moon mostly serve as emphasis. Brilliant emphasis, but as enablers nonetheless.
By the end of Benji
, death is on the mind for the rest of us too. The mood is drab, but it's so masterfully put together you can't help but be sucked in to the bleak reality of Kozelek's existence. In the nature of this window-view of his life any conclusion on our part is purely personal so the only one I can offer is my own. We're all going to die, and it sucks, but if Mark dies before me I know I'll be with a friend and two guitars: tabbing up the music of "Carissa" and connecting to other people over the inevitable end that will tear us apart.