My first introduction to the music of Mark Kozelek dates back to the year 2000 with the release of his solo debut the EP Rock ‘N Roll Singer. Especially the outstanding hushed AC/DC covers impressed me enough to look into Kozeleks past discography. This, of course, brought me on the trail of the beautiful oeuvre of Red House Painters. The San Francisco band released five brilliant records between 1992 and 1996 (Down Colorful Hill Red House Painters I, Red House Painters II, Ocean Beach and Songs For A Blue Guitar) and returned once in 2001 with the stunning album Old Ramon. In that same year Mark Kozelek released a solo album titled What’s Next To The Moon that even exceeded most of his work with Red House Painters. Since then he’s released a host of solo albums as himself, most of which are live registrations and none of which sparked my interest enough to write about. The same goes for the five albums that Kozelek released under his Sun Kil Moon moniker since 2003. Beautiful albums each and everyone, but adding little to Red House Painters formula, if you ask me.
Kozelek is not exactly exploring new ground on his sixth Sun Kil Moon album. The sparse arrangements, often limited to some unobtrusive strumming on the acoustic guitar to sketch the background for his tormented singing, is pretty much what we’ve come to expect from Kozelek and yet, this time around he succeeds in captivating me, as he did at the start of the millennium. The dejection oozing from Benji seems more direct and personal than before. Kozelek takes us back to his childhood in Ohio, with some ups and mostly downs. A coming of age to which sex, music and death apparently were the central themes. The way he expresses all this small and great suffering is still admirably calm and seems more soul-penetrating than on previous albums. Especially when Kozelek retrieves the sadder memories of his childhood Benji mercilessly grabs you by the throat. And just when you think that’s enough pain and suffering, he chucks in some serial killers as an encore.
Looking back it seems as if Mark Kozelek has been practicing ropemanship for over a decade, regularly falling off into a hopeless slump and just as often falling of to the other side into open-ended nimbleness. Finally, practice has paid out in the form of an album that is admirably balanced and spot-on. Benji is Mark Kozelek’s overwhelming revenge over himself.
This review was adapted from a Dutch review on Krenten Uit de Pop