Mark Kozelek, Ben Boye, Jim White – 2: Album Review


4/5: ‘A Lyrical, Ambitious and Moody set of tour diary enteries’

Sun Kil Moon’s ‘Benji’ was easily one of my top 5 albums of the 2010s, potentially even the 21st century. Therefore whenever Mark Kozelek announces a project I bite my lip in anticipation. It isn’t easy to get one’s hopes up when his newer projects have been lacking the emotional stability of that record. Kozelek tends to go on unnecessary, and unfortunately tedious rambles that often detract from an otherwise interesting point. On his latest, he has teamed up with Ben Boye and Jim White to release a follow up to their first collaborative record. One I wasn’t so fond of, but could appreciate. White is a brilliant drummer, and Boye brings these washy soundscapes to the mix that create a moodiness that contrasts Kozelek’s lyrics brilliantly. 

This turns out to be an improvement, and actually Kozelek’s best lyrical effort since ‘Benji’. Instrumentally it sounds like the soundtrack to a rainy day due to its rawness in production and jazzy chords in Boye’s playing. The tracks lyrically follow jam packed autobiographical stories concerning Kozelek’s family and friends, ageing, travels on tour and news stories/viral topics. 

On ‘La Guardia’ these viral topics are at their most relevant. Kozelek bitterly states he was considered insane for being outspoken about Michael Jackson before the ‘Leaving Neverland’ documentary hit airwaves. He details how everyone’s opinion changes when Oprah is on board. He muses on this and its surrounding debate while walking the Mississippi river on tour. It gets brutal when the water reminds him of Jeff Buckley’s premature passing in the state. Buckley had called Kozelek before his passing, with Kozelek being a muse of his for some form of advice. Kozelek missed the call, brushing it off as unimportant and never phoned back. Here he blames himself for not helping Buckley ‘find his voice’ and details conversations with friends about the situation. It can be hard to listen to, due to how depressing the grieving can be. Kozelek’s grief wont be a surprise with it coming up a lot through Mark’s work in general. It is deeply personal and sadly beautiful.

On ‘The Artist’ Kozelek claims he has always had issues grieving. He states he was given a non-fiction book titled ‘A Time To Grieve’ in 2000 and he still hasn’t read it. He says he doesn’t agree on non fiction books about grieving. Then he goes off and tells us to read books about Sonny Liston as it addresses the topic better. He says they are well loved having been dropped in the bath. Come on Mark, take better care of your books. He also addresses social issues in cities and how it can really mar the confidence of those in mundane professions. He details a conversation with a taxi driver where Kozelek is told people are abrupt and rude (by the driver). He says no one says good morning anymore and he just gets ‘take me here’. In a time where social media is a huge distraction, people have lost all the sense of conversation. Here it is easy to agree with him, as people will get from place to place using their phones rather than maps and passers by. 

There is versatility however and the record isn’t entirely depressing to anyone it might turn off. Some kitchen sink, every day life is incorporated into the mix. On ‘Walkin’ in Auckland’ Kozelek tells his stories about his few days in New Zealand with Ben (Boye). Of course it isn’t a Kozelek album without the utmost detail to a single topic. Whether this is a hotel girl handing him his banana, orange, yogurt and green tea breakfast, or a sparrow photobombing his picture. He humorously states the sparrow is the ‘Bradley Cooper of Sparrows’. It is quite endearing, and filled with creative rhyming wordplay. In a description of getting wine from an off licence, Kozelek says:

‘He said at the bottom of the bottle we’d find gold. I said well then my friend consider it sold’. 

Don’t let me forget the humour in the absolutely rediculous ‘Chard Enchilada’, in which Kozelek pokes fun at Bassoon players. I caught myself wondering if i’m listening to a comedy record by this point in the album, even after the incredibly hard hitting ‘La Guardia’.

‘You got a lot of competition playing the bassoon. The violins and saxophones and cellos. Let’s be real. Playing the bassoon is far less glamorous. You might even get more love playing the kazoo than playing the bassoon’. 

Here Mark claims he has respect for anyone who’s mad enough to choose the instrument. He goes on to argue if there are any prominent bassoon players. He goes across musicians he has worked with asking the question. In the end he gets Paul Hanson as a response. Mark goes on to contact Hanson and ask if he’d play a bassoon solo on his record. The answer is yes and Mark is proved wrong about his opinions while Hanson nails it.

Kozelek runs through political issues in heavy detail. On the 15 minute ‘Where’s Gilroy’, Kozelek investigates a town’s reaction to the mass shootings happening in Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton as of late. The townsfolk seem disrespectful to the victims, but as mentioned earlier it is mainly due to the brainwashing social media has on modern society. These events become so normal that they are easy to be considered irrelevant.

 Kozelek gets into a dispute with a young man who blames the issues on Trump. Kozelek rightly says gun violence has been an issue for years and isn’t about who the president happens to be at the time. He details horrific events happening during Bill Clinton and Barack Obama’s presidency to back this up. This track reminds me more of the persuasive essays someone like James Baldwin would write than a song. This time not on race, but on mass shootings and presidency. Kozelek claims he doesn’t support Trump for anyone about to kick off. 

Later down the line he asks himself aloud where the song is leading? This is a really intimate moment. It’s as if Kozalek is having a debate with us about the issues in these states and goes off track. We are transported to the blistering heat of the sun where Kozelek is writing. He tells us about the book he has just finished. Side note: i’ve came out of this record with Kozelek’s favourite books, movies and poems and intend to get round to investigating them all. This album might be his most reference heavy to date.

Personal relationships centre around a few tracks. ‘My Brother Loves Seagulls’ sounds like an unreleased take from the ‘Benji’ or self titled Sun Kil Moon record. This being due to the beautiful cascading guitar and lyrical focus on family and time passing. Kozelek reflects on ageing. He reflects over taking things for granted as a younger person, to see those opportunities handed to younger people. Being more aware of lifes passing due to his brother being in hospital with anemia. He mentions his brother’s hospitalization and issues with health. He compares his brother’s situation to the movie ‘When Niche Wept’. One I have ordered the novel for so I can get a deeper understanding. This reviewer reads books before watching movies. Sorry.

‘August Night’ closes the album and goes deeper into the relationship between Kozelek and his brother (and their differences). He says his brother just watches comedians on youtube all day while Kozelek reads and watches films. Although driving him mad they get together and watch films together on occasion. Although not always being together, his brothers departure greatly affects Kozelek. He mentions in situations like this he is reminded why ‘Daniel’ is his favourite Elton John song. 

We are warned at the beginning of this cut that Kozelek is going to ramble as he does not have anything on his piece of paper entering the studio. This isn’t a bad thing surprisingly. I’m impressed that with no editing this stream of consciousness comes across so smoothly. Even if Kozelek tells us that the relief of peeing is a highlight to his day. The album breaks apart and closes in. Kozelek jokingly states that the record must be over 80 minutes and he better stop as he has made enough double CDs for fans. 

This is great. 9 times out of 10 Kozelek is delivering interesting lyrics, even in their long run times. The songs could’ve blossomed more with some musical diversions. The inclusion of more musicians could be a starting point. I’m shocked that the group didn’t bring Donny Mcasillin in, with the record seeming jazz influenced (not just in sound but with a whole section dedicated to The Mahavishnu Orchestra). The man played on the last Sun Kil Moon record which brings me to this conclusion. I was hoping to hear him come in and have the record move to more experimental places. Alike to Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’ say. Keeping to sparse instrumentation can make the album a little tedious to listen to if not in the correct mood. There is definitely a focus needed, but in the right mood it is superb. While not as cohesive as ‘Benji’, I’m glad to say Mark Kozelek has got his gift back and moving onto great things again. The album comes out tomorrow on Rough Trade in the UK and Caldo Verve in the states.