Sun Kil Moon – Benji (Caldo Verde)

Sun Kil Moon – Benji (Caldo Verde)

Suck on this: The more I dwell on Mark Kozelek’s distasteful 2014 exploits, the more my appreciation for Benji intensifies. The album was already a poignant window into the human condition, its uncomfortably honest character portraits emphasizing the centrality of personal connection, the inevitability of suffering, and the unavoidable truth that we’re all gonna die. The new diaristic approach Kozelek initiated on Among The Leaves came into its own here: his eye for detail, his voice’s weary timbre, his knack for weaving finger-plucked guitar textures to drape over his stories like blankets. No album was realer or rawer than Benji this year, and few were more beautiful.

So how do you process it when that realness and rawness reveals something ugly? What to make of the guy responsible for this vulnerable chronicle of our fragile species using the same stream-of-consciousness balladry to goad another band with unprovoked playground taunts? Kozelek came off like a miserable sneering bully when he launched his one-sided internet war against the War On Drugs. He was the asshole uncle you avoid at Thanksgiving. Even if you consent that he was just playing around, it felt more like a vulgar display of power — “Fucking Hostile,” if you will — and it sullied an otherwise triumphant year for both him and America’s foremost purveyors of beer commercial lead guitar.

That makes Benji all the more remarkable. All that broken-down beauty sprung from the same consciousness as “War On Drugs: Suck My Cock.” It’s easy to listen to Kozelek’s discography and feel sympathy for a weary soul drowning in darkness, but the truth is more complicated. Like all of us, he sometimes contributes to the darkness. And it’s not like he’s been hiding it; Kozelek’s last album included a song about confessing to his girlfriend that he’s come home from tour with an STD. Two of Red House Painters’ best-loved songs (“Katy Song” and “Down Through”) make first-person reference to acts of violence against women, something far graver than cracking jokes about Adam Granduciel giving him fellatio. The unrelenting cruelty has always been a part of his music, impossible to divorce from the tenderness. It’s a miracle he’s able to conjure up anything pretty at all from out of so much pollution, let alone something as staggering as Benji. That accomplishment in itself is not a cure for the kind of despair Kozelek’s been chronicling throughout his career, but maybe it’s a start. –Chris LISTEN

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