There’s a lot to like about Mark Kozelek’s latest album as Sun Kil Moon, but there’s also a lot to irritate. If you’re hoping for a repeat of last year’s ‘Benji’ you’re in for a disappointment. Where that album was magnificent in its confrontation of the universality, inevitability and variety of death, ‘Universal Themes’ is a lot more drab and sketchy. Plus, where ‘Benji’ had songs, its successor sort of has the same ‘song’ eight times. It goes like this: ‘I went to [blank] to play a gig. It was good. I met my friend [blank] afterwards. He was good. I went to my hotel and thought about [blank]. I was sad.’
To be fair to Kozelek, he’s a wily storyteller, but his peristaltic back-and-forth – until he eventually shits out his conclusion that life contains both painful episodes and glimmers of joy – becomes quite boring quite quickly. Still, there are some great moments – albeit in Kozelek’s world, a moment is a good ten minutes long. Opener ‘The Possum’ intricately conflates a dying rodent and a story about going to a Godflesh gig, and closer ‘This Is My First Day and I’m Indian and I Work at a Gas Station’ asks an arch question about the artist as servant. And ‘Birds of Flims’ is really beautiful.
So: not bad. But from someone who has always had to keep his emotional depth-sounding from tipping over into self-parody, ‘not bad’ is not great.