Love and Loss and Sun Kil Moon: musings on “Jesu/Sun Kil Moon”

by Audrey Avril ‘19

              Didn’t I just review some new Sun Kil Moon? Say what you will about Mark Kozelek, the songwriter has just been turning out music at an alarming rate.

The eighth full length studio album Jesu/Sun Kil Moon sees Kozelek join sound with Jesu (Justin Broadrick), and the two pull off a collaboration that provides a new look at their respective work. However, the album, more than anything else, sees Sun Kil Moon hold the spotlight, as Kozelek brings affection to the forefront of his musings, while still flirting with his classic considerations of mortality and the circumstances of fate that affect us all.

The instrumentation, courtesy of Jesu’s influence, gives a fresh face to the classic Sun Kil Moon album. Jesu pulls in a good amount of harder rock feeling in the first few songs, and a heavy dose of ambience (somewhere between the calmest of Mogwai and Boards of Canada) throughout. This can be a mixed blessing, as the sounds sometimes drifts into shoegaze ambivalence at its most demanding. At best, you get “Good Morning My Love,” a song that jumps between romantic affection and boxing spurred by their watching the Floyd “Money” Mayweather/ Oscar de la Hoya fight. The guitar adds a roughness and new intrigue for old fans, but stays patient enough to still let Kozelek do much of the talking. At worst, you get a song like “Carondelet,” whose volume swallows up any nuance in the writing.

However, it is the writing that I’m always drawn to with Sun Kil Moon, and there are some great songs for that in this album. “Good Morning My Love” has already been mentioned, and for me remains one of the better of the more instrumentally loud songs from the album. However, I am extremely partial to the daily minutiae and reality of his life as it works its way into “America’s Most Wanted Mark Kozelek and John Dillinger,” a wild and at some points hilariously unapologetic look at Kozelek’s life as a musician on the road. The almost flippant speed with which he goes through the events and corresponding feelings of a few days on the road, only to drop the frantic pace and go into a slow, pensive reading of a letter he received from a fan. As outlandish and distant as his career feels as he throws it as us in the song, the delivery of the letter feels honest and heartfelt, as it delivers with poignancy a sort of “what it’s all about” feeling in earnest. Those of you familiar with his recent publicity, take that as you will.

“Fragile” and “Father’s Day” deliver the classic themes and tones of Benji, with Kozelek reflecting on the distressingly cruel connection we all share through loved ones who have passed (or we fear may do so), but this culminates in the heartbreaking masterpiece “Exodus.” In this track, Kozelek goes through with painfully resigned delivery his thoughts about the death of fellow songwriter Nick Cave’s son, and how this reminds him of when Mike Tyson lost his daughter, and opens the floodgates for how many parents had lost their children in the span of his recording recalling the tragedy of his cousin Carrisa’s death from Benji among others. There is no real irony or bitterness to the song, just an honest emotion as Kozelek sincerely sends his love to all bereaved parents. We are only two months into 2016, and I may have found my saddest song of the year.

If not every song is a hit, there are still many wonderful moments in this album well worth the listen. Sun Kil Moon is one of the only musicians that I bother to look up the lyrics for, because it so closely borders poetry in the power and use of words that just seeing them on the page provokes an emotional response too close to empathy not to feel a human connection to the moments and themes therein. Overall, well worth a listen.

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