These days the most specificity you seem to get out of the average indie record can be confined to the press release. Ever since Justin "Bon Iver" Vernon emerged from his dad's cabin with a record in hand, condensed stories of single-note emotional problems and existential distresses were neatly framed by family troubles or national tragedies, effectively masquerading for passable lyrical purpose and emotional honesty. Since when did people stop singing what they mean? Sometimes it seems like rock n' roll has all but seceded lyrical specificity and truth to the world of hip-hop, where being clever is easy and being emotional is few and far between.
Sun Kil Moon is too old for this shit. Mark Kozelek, 47, has been putting out records for "guys in tennis shoes" for the last twenty years and has managed to operate a consistent ideology best described by the man himself as "I write music, I record, I tour, I deposit checks. Fuck everything else." Yeah, sometimes he comes off as the drunk uncle of alternative music but this "get off my lawn" quality is what allowed him to make a record as massive as this year's Benji. Free from the through-line of EDM influence present in a lot of other records on this list, Kozelek has made an incredibly dense, emotionally devastating, highly unique independent rock n' roll record that strikes a well needed chord for honesty and lyricism this year.
The album spares little details, employing the listener as something between therapist, audience member, and Kozelek's literal conscious as he narrates through moments of swift precision and vast stretches of stream-of-consciousness abyss. Although the record shys away from distinctly modern sensibilities of instrumentation chosing instead to rely predominately on the six strings of Kozelek's guitar, there's nothing simple going on here. Listen after listen, Benji leaves you with a warm glow of humanity reminiscent to a late night conversation with drunk confidants that leaves one thinking perhaps too much has been shared but knowing everyone is better off having said it.
In a year where songs rarely have more words than their title and rock lyricism is typically muttered over mounds of reverb and overdubs, Sun Kil Moon explodes with real places, real restaurants, and real people. The world of Benji can be mundane, heartbreaking, hilarious, and upsetting. Through the stories of Carissa, Katie Carlin, Patricia, Shelly, Amber, Mary-Ann, Deborah, Jim Wise, Billy Breslin, Nels Cline, Jimmy Page, Peter Grant, John Paul Jones, Jon Bonham, Mark Denton, the pool shark Jim Evans, James Gandolfini, Micheline, Brett, Marcel and Cyrus Hunt, James Huberty, The Batman Killer, Richard Ramirez, Jim Jones, Ayatollah Knomeni, Ronald Reagan, Ben Gibbard, two cute Asian girls, Domino's, KFC, Red Lobster, Safeway, Panera Bread, and Perry's on Union St (with all of its sports bar shit); Mark Kozelek has created a career-defining masterpiece.
Words: Nicholas Boyd