Sun Kil Moon is a band that has interested me for a couple years now. I have listened to a few of their albums and have been mostly satisfied. I really liked their album April and absolutely loved Benji. I was not crazy about last year’s Universal Themes but I was still excited to see what front man Mark Kozelek would deliver with this collaboration with Jesu, the band fronted by Godflesh’s Justin Broadrick. I have only listened to a little from Jesu and have not been blown away by any of their music but I was still looking forward to what they would do with Kozelek.
After listening through this nearly 80 minute album I was surprised with how this felt less like a collaboration and more like Jesu assisting on a new Sun Kil Moon album. This is mostly because of how similar this album is to what Sun Kil Moon has been putting out lately. That is because Kozelek continues to write lyrics in a unique stream of consciousness where we get pretty much every thought on his mind. Kozelek delivers these lyrics in a style that is close to spoken word and will definitely not be for most audiences.
As for me, I thought the lyrics on this album varied in quality. Kozelek has always been best when his lyrics are personal and focused. I would say many of these songs are more focused than they were on Universal Themes but they still are filled with plenty of mundane details that really drag some of these songs making this an album I found to be a chore to get through. A song like “Beautiful You” could have been much better if it did not go on for 14 minutes going over every moment of Kozelek’s life and experiences with his girlfriend. This was a huge problem I had with this album as I kept losing focus because of the tangents that Kozelek would go off on.
Even when Kozelek’s lyrics do work well on songs like “Good Morning My Love” and “A Song of Shadows,” the heavy guitars in the background are too overwhelming for the vocals and drowns them out to the point where you can barely understand what is being sung. The former of these songs, also wastes vocals from Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock which was a disappointment for me. The instrumentation does mellow out as the album progresses, with the exception of the song “Sally,” and more acoustic and synth sounds are used which I found to work much better with Sun Kil Moon’s style.
While almost all songs here could be cut down at least a little, was one track that stood out to me as by far the best and that would be “Exodus.” The song is written in response to Kozelek finding out about the death of Nick Cave’s 15 year old son. In the song he recalls meeting Cave and his son and recollects all the people in his life he knows who have had to bury their children. The song also has a generally eerie sound that worked incredibly well. The song is beautiful and personal in the exact way that I appreciate from Sun Kil Moon. This is probably my favorite song of the year behind a few cuts off of Blackstar and it definitely was a welcomed surprise in quality for me on this album.
The song “Fragile” was also excellent as Mark Kozelek talks about the passing of Yes’ Chris Squire who passed away last year of Leukemia and relates it to the death of one of his own friends named Chris who died of Leukemia as well. This track, as well as “Exodus”, made me wonder why the rest of these tracks could not be as great.
While I realize there are plenty of people who will love this album, I just was not one of them. This was just too long and inconsistent for me to recommend to anyone who is not in love with either of these bands. In many ways this plays mainly to fans with Kozelek even reading two letters from fans that were written to him. While this was a cute idea, it came across as Kozelek just stroking his own ego and did not work nearly as well as he probably intended it to.
I will still be looking forward to Sun Kil Moon’s next release I just hope that it is a more condensed and consistently great than this was. I still think they have the ability to put out something with the quality of Benji, this just was not that.