Mark Kozalek, currently the only member of Sun Kil Moon, pours his heart out into this hour long venture into the mind of a middle aged man. Benji features contributions from Sonic Youth‘s Steve Shelley and various other indie artists, Kozalek reveals his insecurities through simple chord sequences, beautiful fingerpicking and his signature vocal style.
‘Carissa’ begins the album with sombre steel strung acoustic guitar accompanying Kozalek’s gravelly voice. The lyrical style of Kozalek adds a personal touch to this album. It is almost as if he is letting the listener into his own head. The mournful tone really translates well into the next couple of songs, ‘I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love’ and ‘Truck Driver’. The former of which has possibly the most heartfelt lyrics in the entire album, on par only with ‘I Love My Dad’. The latter of the two, begins with lyrics that set the tone immediately “My Uncle died in a fire on his birthday”. The dark, haunting guitar part very much accentuates the restrained anger, and even in the darkest part of the album, the vocal harmonies still brighten up the mood.
‘Jim Wise’ is the only track on this album which doesn’t feature a guitar, but instead a sweet sounding electric piano. With a female vocal harmony, this song really isolates itself from the rest of the album and almost acts as a divider between the two halves. It is in this track that Kozalek demonstrates his ability to tell a story through song. ‘I Love My Dad’ has such a kind chord sequence that is filled with nostalgia and a sense of humor. ‘I Watched The Film The Song Remains The Same’ features Kozalek’s mesmeric fingerpicking and lulls the listener into this introspective state of mind. The angelic backing vocals and the ethereal finishing solo makes for one of the most memorable moments in Benji. ‘Micheline’ is the tenth song on this album, reminiscent of ‘Carissa’, the kind, country feel is juxtaposed with tragic lyrics and it makes for quite the emotional journey in just over six minutes.
Last but certainly not least, ‘Ben’s My Friend’ sees the album to it’s end. This song doesn’t sound like anything on the album and really shouldn’t work, but it somehow does. With drums right at the start and shakers to give it some well received syncopation. This is probably the only song in Benji with a hook and even has a simultaneous guitar and saxophone solo. What makes this song even more impressive is that Kozalek just wrote it on a whim as a nod to Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie.
This is definitely an album to consider purchasing. The cathartic lyrics may seem overwhelming at first, but repeated listens reveal the meanings behind each track. Benji is the kind of album that requires the listener to take one hour to dedicate to it as not all of the tracks hold up to being played on their own. If you are willing to give this album some time, you definitely will not be disappointed.
Benji was released on 11/02/2014 on Caldo Verde Records.