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Wednesday October 1st 2014

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Ears & Fingers 2/20/14

by Jason Leger

Sun Kil Moon-Benji
Simply put, one does not approach Sun Kil Moon or the output of Mark Kozelek at large for ‘feel good music.’ I’ve learned this the hard way over the years, but it was never more painstakingly apparent than when I encountered the song “Ceiling Gazing” from his split LP with The Album Leaf last year. I very vividly remember the first time I heard the song. I was sitting in my room thinking about some problems my family had been having. The first verse of the song involves the death of his grandpa, and Kozelek sings, “It was the first and the last time I saw my dad cry.” Whatever thin veil there was between me and cracking up was shattered by those words.

“Benji” is Kozelek’s latest, and the majority of the album shares the storytelling feel and mournful vibe of “Ceiling Gazing.” Within the first four songs, you learn about two family members’ deaths from freak accidents involving fire. You understand how fearful he is of losing his 75-year-old mother and gain insight on why he is afraid of blondes. On the fifth song, “Pray for Newtown,” he takes it a step further by writing about the Newtown Elementary shootings, as well as several other tragic events in America’s recent history. This kind of introspection, moroseness and dark bare bones honesty is at the core thematically, as it’s primarily Kozelek, a guitar and minimalistic backing. However, there are some moments that will make you want to laugh, mostly on the closing track, “Ben’s My Friend.” “Ben” is none other than Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service, and the song tells of a Postal Service show Kozelek went to last year and had a bit of a mid-life crisis. It’s funny because he admits that he wrote the song because he “needed one more track to finish up the record.”

When I first heard the two singles from the record, “Richard Ramirez Died of Natural Causes” and the aforementioned “Ben’s My Friend,” a couple of months ago, I wasn’t very fond of them. Kozelek has developed a strange style of consciousness storytelling, and at times it feels like he is trying to get out too much information at once. Hearing the finished product, however, I changed my tune considerably. This album is a masterpiece from an aging musician who is, for lack of a better term, uncomfortable. It’s painful to listen to, not for the young, but more than worth your time and effort. “Benji” is out now via Caldo Verdi Records and you can check out a very handy “Benji” glossary on Pitchfork, giving you insight on what Kozelek is talking about on every song.

If You Haven’t Heard: Cloud Nothings
Cloud Nothings have been meandering around the underground for several years now, and enjoying decent critical reception for their equally decent output. Mostly the brainchild of Dylan Baldi, a singer-songwriter from Cleveland, Ohio, Cloud Nothings seem to get more and more charming and mature with every release. The last we heard from the band was 2012’s “Attack on Memory,” which had several great jams, including “No Future/No Past,” “Stay Useless” and the nine-minute slow burner “Wasted Days.”  A couple of weeks ago, the band released “I’m Not Part of Me,” a very grown up track, which displays Baldi’s perpetually burgeoning skills as a songwriter. The song will be included on Cloud Nothings’ upcoming fourth full-length album, “Here and Nowhere Else,” which is due out April Fools’ Day, though all signs point to it being very far from laughable. Keep an eye out for at least one more track between now and then, as the band will certainly want to keep their fans interest up until the release date. “Here and Nowhere Else” is out April 1 via Mom & Pop/Carpark Records.