Top positive review
10 people found this helpful
on 14 March 2014
When people die, words have a tendency to sound hollow or glib. Whether they were good people or not or whether they touched your life in a major way or just passed through it, the words that follow can often seem simultaneously like too much is being said and then that there’s not enough can actually be said. Despite being a subject that, by its innately bleak nature, we all have to face throughout our lives (not including the panic-attack inducing prospect of our own death), words rarely capture the feelings that follow a death. I think R.E.M. made a worthy stab with Sweetness Follows (but that was later ruined by its inclusion in Vanilla Sky).
Ex-Red House Painter Mark Kozelek doesn’t pull his punches with these songs. Often – and in a very unsettling conversational and confessional manner – it feels like he’s your buddy sitting opposite you in a bar, having a beer and talking rubbish when suddenly the topic shifts to the death of an uncle (Truck Driver) or a second cousin (Carissa) or an old bandmate or a massacre on the news (Pray for Newtown) or even the prospect of the death of his mother (I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love). This is not an upbeat happy album; if you were looking for an album to describe as being the polar opposite of, say, the Icona Pop album last year, then this would be it. Sure, beers get drunk, lampshades are purchased, gigs are attended and a real, palpable life is lived but it’s not a life signposted with pouting selfies and hilarious status updates. Sun Kil Moon doesn’t exist in some virtual world of edited highlights and retouched imagery; life is a raw, ugly, unfair and often bewildering experience that, despite everything, still raises a few dry smiles. This is because you couldn’t make a record like this without acknowledging the (somewhat grim) humour that is required to cope with being alive and surviving everything that life throws at you in the 21st century, whether you experience it all firsthand or have the empathy to feel it and be profoundly moved by it.
There is light at the end of the tunnel however. Ben’s My Friend (effectively, the title track of the album), is a beautifully witty piece about the mild bitterness and rivalry that exists between Mark and his friend Ben Gibbard of the Postal Service/Death Cab for Cutie. It succinctly captures that moment where you realise, that at the age you’ve reached and what you’ve achieved, there’s probably nowhere else to go but down yet there’s still plenty to be grateful for. Like friends and blue crabcakes. The line “There’s a thin line between a middle-aged guy with a backstage pass and a guy with a gut hangin’ around like a jackass” sums up what it is to be an older man in a world that values youth for its own sake. If, like me, you sigh each time you fill out an online survey and find you’re ticking the next box down for “Age Group” and the gulf between the one you tick and the one you actually feel sometimes seems unimaginable and vast and your youth increasingly looks like a TV box set that you vaguely remember watching too many summers ago, then this is an album that helps it all make sense. It won’t make you feel good and it certainly won’t make you any happier but it will give you a sense of perspective and, sometimes, that’s the greatest benefit that growing older can bestow.