Sound — 7
Since forming Sun Kil Moon in 2002, which was formed as his previous band was losing momentum, Mark Kozelek has released some rather interesting folk rock albums. With each release the autobiographical nature of his songs seems to be further emphasized, and the acoustic guitar seems to almost exclusively carry each track. The album contains eleven tracks and clocks in at over 1 hour. While there has not officially been any "singles" released from the album, the closing track "Ben's My Friend" has received a lot of attention after Pitchfork Media assigned it with the "Best New Track" award for their website.
The album opens with the track "Carissa," which opens with an acoustic melody (get used to that - pretty much a description of the intros of almost all the songs), with the lyrics dealing with the death of a relative who burned to death. The next track is "I Can't Live Without My Mother's Love," which is basically Mark's ballad about how important his mother is to him and how he will have to deal with her death eventually. "Truck Driver" is a song about Mark's uncle who died in a fire, much like the song "Carissa." The lyrics let you know that Mark's uncle who died was also the grandfather of the "Carissa" who died in a fire in the first song. The song "Dogs" is up next and is about Mark's early romantic and sexual experiences. "Dogs" builds up with some percussion later in the track, some weird guitar noise, a tambourine that is hard panned to one side, and some weird vocal harmonies. "Pray for Newton" is up next, which basically about Mark reacting to receiving a fan letter saying to pray for Newton. "Jim Wise" is a song about Mark meeting one of his father's friends who is waiting to go to trial for mercy killing his sick wife. "I Love My Dad" is about how much Mark loves his dad and the lessons his dad taught him. "I Watched the Film the Song Remains the Same" is basically about Mark's experience watching "The Song Remains the Same" with some friends. "Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes" is about the serial killer, Richard Ramirez, and how ironic/crazy it is that he was a vicious killer who murdered several people yet he died of natural causes in relative peace as a feeble elderly man. There is a lot of stuff in the vocals about people dying before their time and coming to terms with again, as well as a lot of weird vocal harmony going on and a generally dark vibe. "Micheline" is up next, which is about a girl that grew up in Mark's neighborhood that had mental development problems and how she had a rough life. Also the track talks about one of Mark's friends who had an aneurysm and then years later died and left behind his wife and kids. The album closes out with the track "Ben's My Friend," which I've read is about Mark's friendship with Benjamin Gibbard, who is the lead singer from Death Cab For Cutie. The song is another song that seems to focus a lot on coming to terms with mortality. The album as a whole seems to have a heavy theme on mortality and death, and is a very dark album.
Lyrics — 7
Mark Kozelek has a distinctive vocal style that sounds like a more "tortured" Beck, with a slow almost slurred drawl. The lyrical style of the album is pretty much straightforward narrative. Many of the lyric sites online show Sun Kil Moon lyrics looking more like short stories than song lyrics. As a sample of the lyrics, here are some lyrics from the opening track, "Carissa": "Oh Carissa when I first saw you, you were a lovely child/ And the last time I saw you, you were fifteen and pregnant and running wild/ I remember wondering could there be a light at the end of your tunnel/ But I left Ohio then and pretty much forgot all about you/ I guess you were there some years ago at a family funeral/ But you were one of so many relatives I didn't know which one was you/Yesterday morning I woke up to so many 330 area code calls/ I called my mom back and she was in tears and asked me to spoke to my father/ Carissa burned to death last night in a freak accident fire." Again, it is the attraction to Sun Kil Moon's music as well as what makes it sometimes hard to listen to, but the songs are extremely narrative and tell stories. I liked the album for what it was, and that includes the lyrics and vocals.
Overall Impression — 7
Here is how I feel about Sun Kil Moon - you would have to be in the right mood to sit and listen to Mark's "stories" to really enjoy listening to his music. I enjoyed the album but I also had to set aside special time where I was focusing on just chilling out and listening to the stories in the songs. They do a great job of helping create an emotional soundscape, and having honesty in the lyrics, but it isn't a "playing in the background" type of album. I would have to say the biggest hurdle to enjoying this album is that the lyrics really seem to overwhelm the music at several points, which is a pity because Mark is a phenomenal guitarist and composer.