Benji (Lost Posts pt. 2)

I have left everything as it was when I first wrote this however many months ago that was. The portion at the end about William Schaff was somewhat time sensitive, but I wanted to leave it in anyway to bring attention to it even if the donations aren’t possible anymore. The links are probably still valid so you should check them out anyway.   — JS

I did something very stupid, actually I guess it is what I didn’t do that was stupid.

So as you might remember from the recent post about Mark Kozelek and Sun Kil Moon, I discussed how I felt he has been maundering a bit musically and that I think everyone would really enjoy it if he would give us a bit more than the nylon string guitar and his vocals. He has proven repeatedly in the past that he is more than capable of it. Well, I also mentioned at that time, I think, that there was a new record slated to be released, Sun Kil MoonBenji. It has now been released, but at that time you could make pre-orders on Caldo Verde for the album on vinyl, which I think I might also have mentioned that you are as likely to find his vinyl at the record store as you are to find a unicorn with a doctorate in your guest bathroom. I had every intention of ordering it, I really did. Maybe I’ll get lucky and he will come play nearby again and I can buy the record there like I did with the last one. Not likely though.

You might be asking yourself why I would care so much if my love for him has been waning. As you might expect, or at least I would since I didn’t make that order, this album gives us much more and I have probably already listened to it more times than the last two albums combined. His material seems to be becoming progressively more autobiographical in a way that can be a little bit uncomfortable and/or painful at times, as if putting diary entries to music, but because nothing is omitted there are also moments of levity and passages about just living that keep it from being too oppressive. Mark definitely lives under the pall of a very strange cloud, although I think that he is more than a little like me in this regard, and he would likely be the first to admit that most of that darkness and pain is self-induced. The strangeness comes from the more than usual number of odd occurrences that have touched his life of which he sings on Benji. He is also more than aware of the incongruity of some of his beliefs and emotions as he sings of having a charmed life and being able to live without it in I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love and then later in I Watched The Film The Song Remains The Same the lyrics touch on the depressing wisdom and introspection that only comes from growing older and closer to the end, which courses through all of the last half of the album. The album grows increasingly darker now as I am writing about it, and I am not ashamed to admit that it brings me to tears at least once every time I listen to it. In my defense and to mitigate some of the “wuss” thoughts going through your heads right now, I have only ever listened to it while I am alone, which is most of the time, and I probably have some emotional issues as evidenced by the fact that I am constantly disturbed by the dearth of real meaning in our lives and the inanity and pointlessness I see everywhere.
Whoa, lighten up man.
Okay. I’m alright now.

So the music, yes the music, I haven’t written a word about it yet. It has also progressed and has more of an openness to it, the performance is a little looser but lends itself well to the nature of the songs, like early Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen (Yes, Chris I know your feelings about those two. I still say you are wrong.) In more contemporary circles it has reminiscences of Will Sheff, although a little more in the lyrical content and vocal style than the music, since as I’ve pointed out repeatedly Mark’s music has grown less complicated and layered in these last few releases, much unlike most of Okkervil River’s output. He did mix it up a bit on this one though, both with the music and the vocals, instead of the typical echoey effect that you might find on the vocals, he does some layering where he accompanies himself. There is even some brass in the closing track, which is unusual for him.

Overall it is a slightly new direction for him, while retaining his recognizable style. There is a moderately lighter feel to it, even in the cover art that still looks like a Red House Painters, Mark Kozelek, Sun Kil Moon cover, but this time it’s in full color which is a departure. Maybe this new perspective will provide us with a new and exciting chapter like what Michael Gira, despite what some detractors have said about him, has continued to do with his musical career.

In a somewhat related topic, William Schaff (not the same guy as Will Sheff), the artist that has provided the beautiful artwork for nearly every Okkervil River release is struggling to keep his home from being foreclosed. As a visual artist I fully understand how difficult it is being continually broke and unable to function without the almost constant support of some very generous people in your life. So if you find that you have a little extra, please consider giving a little to support him or visual artists in general (that means me.)

There are some really great gifts you can get for making a very modest donation.
This might have to be my next step, haha.

— JS


Winter Music

Some of you might have heard me talk about this before but I’m going to write about it anyway, particularly since a few of us are going to be seeing Mark Kozelek tomorrow evening. Based on his output over the past few years, I think Mr. Kozelek is gradually turning into James Taylor. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, his music is still beautifully written and performed but he has moved almost entirely away from the full instrumentation of Red House Painters or even the earlier Sun Kil Moon releases to the point that nearly everything, whether it be a Sun Kil Moon release or a solo release, is all just him alone with a guitar (what title it bears appears to be rather arbitrary at this point.) Honestly I was quite surprised to see that Among The Leaves actually bears the Sun Kil Moon moniker, although listening through it again as I am typing this, there are few songs here that are slightly more involved than anything from the Admiral Fell Promises album, such as The Moderately Talented Yet Attractive Young Woman VS. The Exceptionally Talented Yet Not So Attractive Middle Aged Man (and yes, that is all one title.) For anyone familiar with the Red House Painters catalog you might notice that distinctive RHP percussion sound on this one, which I guess shouldn’t be too surprising considering some of the old RHP crew have been with him all along although in an obviously limited capacity. Overall Among The Leaves is, to me, a good, solid album which I’m sure will continue to grow on me with subsequent listening, but I really miss the days of Mark with a real band and fully fleshed out songs whereas some of this newer stuff can sound like very well produced sketches. Either way, I still love you Mark.

Here is Black Kite, the closer from Sun Kil Moon – Among The Leaves.

Now take a listen to Last Tide/Floating from Sun Kil Moon – Ghosts Of The Great Highway.

Strangely that song is split into two tracks on the album despite the fact that it clearly is meant to be played together as one song.

And finally, have a listen to Moments, from Red House Painters – Ocean Beach.

Okay, so if you listened to all of that then you see what I’m talking about.

Anyway, there you have it, it’s cold outside and it seemed like some cold weather music was in order. I don’t know if anyone else is like me, but certain  bands or songs just seem to be as synonymous with winter as heavy coats, like anything from Red House Painters. (Ocean Beach strangely has the ability to transcend the winter album to be an ‘at the lake’ album as well.)