Mark Kozelek has been pretty busy over the past couple years. In addition to his countless solo projects, including Sun Kil Moon's Benji and Universal Themes, his internet beef with the War on Drugs and random critics, as well as his appearance in the film Youth, Kozelek has now teamed up with the experimental project Jesu (aka Justin Broadrick) for this collaborative effort. Though I loved Benji (it was my second favorite album of 2014), I've been fairly ambivalent to Jesu's oeuvre, and Universal Themes didn't resonate with me the same way Benji does. It seemed to get bogged down a little bit in minutia, and Kozelek's meandering stories, though thought provoking on Benji, didn't seem to go anywhere on the majority of Universal Themes. That being said, I was still excited for a new Sun Kil Moon project. And for the most part, I think it was a success.
However, at the beginning, I was not completely sold. Though the album took a turn after the third track, these first songs had me convinced that I was not going to enjoy this album. Mark Kozelek is doing his rambling man shtick over instrumentation I can only describe as if Sunn O))) did mid paced heavy metal. The guitar riffs here are heavy and overly redundant (I could barely tell when a song ended and another began because the guitar riffs were so similar). When you can actually understand Mark here, since he is mixed entirely too low, it doesn't seem like he's saying a whole lot of importance, kind of falling back into the minutia that plagued Universal Themes.
However, after these first three tracks, the instrumentation really tones down, venturing into ambient, electronic, and acoustic directions. Though the guitars get heavy again on the song 'Sally', the guitar tone is brighter, the riff a little more energetic, and Kozelek's lyrics and energy cut through much better. Kozelek's lyrics also get much more personal and thought provoking on these tracks as well. I especially enjoy the tracks 'Fragile', in which Kozelek reflects on Yes bass prodigy Chris Squire's death and his relationship with a childhood friend also named Chris, as well as 'Exodus', in which the death of Nick Cave's son acts as a catalyst that leads Mark Kozelek to convey the feeling of losing a child. Here is where Mark Kozelek's meandering style of writing really works, as the mundane details pull you in, and the relate-able small things then help you identify with Mark's point of you, instead of feeling tacked on or alienating.
If these first three songs were cut or broken up throughout the sequence, I feel like it would have done this project a massive service. As it stands, you kind of have to slog through the beginning to get to the much more satisfying rest of the album. With some editing, this could have come out as a classic, but for me, it's not as forgettable as Universal Themes, but it's not as moving or as cohesive as Benji.
Out of a total of five stars, I give this:
What did you think of the album? Are there any albums you currently can't get enough of, or think are worthy of discussion? Check back in soon, as I'll be sharing my thoughts on Rihanna's long awaited eighth full length, Anti.
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