Mark Kozelek Gets Nostalgic for Ohio

Sun Kil Moon

Friday, February 21

From the onset, Benji, the latest record from Mark Kozelek as Sun Kil Moon, is marked with darkness. In his familiar baritone voice, it opens with “Carissa,” an account of the death of a relative from a freak aerosol-can explosion. Underlying the narrative is Kozelek’s personal history and a longing for his home state.

“Losing my second cousin in a fire accident sort of spun me out,” Kozelek wrote recently in an e-mail to Seattle Weekly . “It brought me back to Ohio under very sad circumstances, and . . . I don’t know. It might not be the most flattering portrait of Ohio, but it is the Ohio I grew up in, the Ohio I know now, a beautiful, inspiring place.”

Full of such autobiographical reflections, Benji is a marked departure from his typical songwriting style, one listeners came to know with his recordings as a solo artist and with the Red House Painters. Where once he might have tried to force symbolism, his lyrics—not to mention song titles like “I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love” and “I Love My Dad”—are now noticeably stripped-down and blunt, often following meandering themes. Lately he has taken to recording songs as quickly as possible after writing them. “I used to spend so much time [writing],” Kozelek explains. “But I don’t care for metaphors anymore, or trying to impress anyone. I write quickly.”

He elaborates on this thought in a recent interview with Pitchfork. “Things get heavier as you get older. At 47, I can’t write from the perspective of a 25-year-old anymore. My life has just changed too much, and my environment around me.”

As he did the rest of his prolific catalog, Kozelek self-produced Benji. Many tracks still feature his trademark somber finger-picked guitar, though in a few he leads his band in genre-crossing adventures. In “Ben’s My Friend,” he plays a jazzy guitar line and recalls watching Ben Gibbard perform with The Postal Service at the Greek Theater. Yet even with collaborators like Will Oldham and Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelly, Kozelek’s stark stream-of-consciousness lyricism is the real standout here.

Take, for example, “I Watched the Film the Song Remains the Same.” In a rattle of lyrics, Kozelek recalls being mesmerized by the classic Led Zeppelin film, then remembers the deaths of his grandmother and friends, then the time he punched a kid, and so on. It all seems disjointed, this weaving of seemingly unrelated memories. Yet somehow it reveals a subtle portrait that defines the genesis of Benji’s overarching melancholia. That it’s delivered in Kozelek’s gentle, likable croon makes it all the more digestible.

The album is a bold jump for the songwriter into the present. As he embarks on tour to support it, there’s a strong sense he won’t be playing too much of his old stuff. “Old songs are for artists who don’t have new ones. It’s sad when I see artists do that. [It’s] like they have no new perspective, like their growth is stunted,” he says. “I have so much new inspiration in my life, so there’s no reason to sing old songs. Not a ton of them, anyhow.” The Neptune, 1303 N.E. 45th St., 877-784-4849, stgpresents.com/neptune. 9 p.m. $20 adv./$23 DOS. All ages.

 
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