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  • Benji
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Customer reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Format: Audio CD|Change
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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.
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on 25 April 2015
This is fantastic. It's my first cd by this guy, in any of his recording incarnations, and I love this album. I recommended it to my friend, and he loves it too. If you don't like this you probably work in marketing and use phrases like "going forward" or you use that pointless upward inflection at the end of sentences. Or you have a white Audi. With black wheels. And stupid headlights.
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on 16 December 2015
After seeing multiple rave reviews for this album, I picked it up and was utterly spellbound.
Lyrics about events during Mark's life come together with subtle lessons, morals, questions, philosophies, almost by accident.
The guitar and occasional percussion on this album sounds utterly gorgeous and sets the atmosphere perfectly.
It's honestly difficult to put into words how wonderful this album is.
Just buy it.
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on 15 August 2014
It's the best Sun Kil Moon album in my opinion. I kind of feel that this is exactly what i've been wanting from him. Much as i like the other albums, for me this really nails it and takes it to another level. Its spellbinding. And its so nice to see Mark Kozelek at the top of his game lyrically and musically this far in to his career. This album, and last year's Perils from the Sea with Jimmy Lavalle both floored me, and had near constant play on my ipod for months!
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on 6 February 2015
I thought it was stunning and my best record of 2014.
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on 11 October 2014
A great album of haunting stripped down songs mostly autobiographical.I hadn,t heard this band before but I will look for more of their albums.
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on 26 February 2014
Mark Kozelek is, to these ears, in a bit of a golden moment in his career at present. He seems to have ditched the more stylistic productions and songwriting of old for a far less precious and far more spontaneous and personal approach. I can well understand why this may be splitting his audience a bit, but to those of us who have been bitten hard by this new 'diary'-style approach, Benji is a delight.
It's about the attention to detail, the perfectly drawn snippets of everyday life that make each story (and yes, that is what they are more than songs) strangely compelling. This is not background music, it has to be given your full attention in the same way that a talking book demands.
Yes, the main theme of the record is one of mortality, but this is not the self-indulgent whining of a teenager, it is the world weary observations and exasperations of a middle-aged man who is grappling with the big issues of love and loss without losing either his sense of humor or his sense of the absurd. It's a wonderful record - and anyone who can use the line "sports bar s***" as a bona-fide hookline (Ben's My Friend) deserves considerable praise in my world. Score: 4.6/5
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TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 10 February 2014
The word "prolific" does not come anywhere close to doing justice to the musical output of Mark Kozelek. The great man put out two fabulous collaborative albums in 2013. Firstly the sublime electronica of "Perils from the Sea" with Jimmy LaValle from Album Leaf and the more rocking album with Desertshore including its wry musical attacks on Wilco's Nels Cline. Quite what the difference is nowadays between a Kozelek solo album and a Sun Kil Moon release is contestable, But who cares? Kozelek makes the music that touches your soul, makes you deeply reflect on your nearest and dearest, tells you that the human journey totters on disappointment and near collapse but that in the end its contact with family, friends, colleagues and comrades that makes it a road worth travelling.

"Benji" is by a country mile Kozelek's most personal album. Like a male version of Joni Mitchell he has no terrors in laying bare his deepest emotions and fears. In particular it is an album infused with death or at least the fear of it. Any one whose parents provide the anchor of stability in life will be drawn to two great Kozelek songs present "I can't live without my mothers love" and "I love my Dad". The first song is a touching paean to his dear mum who he admits "She is the closest friend I have in my life" but he fears that when she departs the earth that `I won't have the courage to sort through her things; I cannot bear all the pain it will bring'". How wonderful to see a male songwriter confront his feelings of love for his dearest relative. "I love my dad" is more of a traditional rock n roll song but is filled with similar sentiments around what was clearly a more difficult relationship (and another Nels Cline dig). Travel through others parts of the album and there is the 10 minute plus ode to Led Zeppelin "I watched the film Song Remains the Same" one of the greatest fan letters ever set to music where he admits that "what spoke to him most was Rain Song and Bron y Aur". Yet like all Kozelek songs it spirals into other areas weaving imagery about lost friends not least Chris Waller who died in a motorcycle accident at the age of 13. There are classic Kozelek songs here to spare with his note to Death Cab for Cutie main man Ben Gibbard "Ben is my friend' being an affectionate jazzy affair. Opener "Carissa" echoes the reflective Spanish guitar mood of "Admiral Fell Promises", while the tragic victims of the Sandy Hook shooting are the focus of the melancholy of the sad "Pray for Newtown". One song "Dogs" alludes to Kozelek's fumbling teenage love life but most poignant of all is the song about his grandmother "Micheline" and the effects of her death.

None of this sounds like a barrel of laughs and accepting Kozelek's many idiosyncrasies' may be only way to enjoy this record. If you can you will fnd this brilliant confessional music with the 47 year old Kozelek unafraid to stray into territory that usually is the bare bones preserve of intimate family or personal history. The presence of Will Oldham on backing vocals adds to this mood. Kozelek has been hinting at this approach in previous albums but no Sun Kil Moon album gets any where as near as "Benji" to such deeply intimate backdrops in describing the impact of the randomness of fate on our daily beings. This is a vulnerable, heart wrenching, mature and wise album from one of the greatest American songwriters breathing oxygen.
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on 15 February 2014
I have been a Kozelek fan for 22 years, which means I've pretty much gone through my adult life with his music. I've not loved all of it - the Portuguese guitar obsession of 2009-11 left me a little cold, for example - but I love and appreciate the way his writing and playing has changed and developed over the years. Many hard-core Red House Painters fans can't seem to understand/accept why he isn't still knocking out the poetry drenched slow-core doom of the early albums - something I find both amusing and ridiculous - but I love the stream of consciousness style of his current work and Benji is surely going to be seen as the masterpiece of this era-Kozelek. I doubt there will be a more engaging, life-affirming, amusing or shattering (yes, all at once!) album about death ever made. Buy it. Study it. Love it.
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on 26 January 2015
Bought as a gift, muso loved it!
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