Released: January 21, 2016
Label: Caldo Verde Records/Rough Trade
It only takes a minute and a half before the continuing misadventures of Mark Kozelek pitch three perfect fastballs right down the center. Strikes one, two, and three tick off of the checklist in a heartbeat of “things you are likely to find in a Sun Kil Moon song”. He experiences a mundane errand of everyday life in withdrawing money from the bank, shouts out family members near and dear to him, and mentions the death of his dentist. Yes, he has stories, but him and Justin Broadrick (Godflesh, Jesu) are also good friends wrought with ripe potential. This new collaboration album between the two is bold, curiously incorporating Broadrick’s droning guitar with the ever growing legend of Kozelek’s train-of-thought songwriting and semi-intentional dry humor. Instrumentation consists of anything from popping synths, to shoegaze electric guitar, to careful drum patterns and mild acoustics. The idea crafted here presents a story in itself. Two worlds are being fused into one.
Jesu/Sun Kil Moon is a careful reminder of how naturally free-flowing Mark’s stream-of-consciousness delivery is. The effect broods to such a peculiar extent, that it’s quite difficult to differentiate normal sentences in interviews and press material from actual lyrics written to record. At this point, it’s a wonder you don’t see an overly invasive group of “superfans” carefully plotting their way into every facet of Kozelek’s life, keenly interpreting anything he says as genius, no matter the context. In fact, a hysterical Kozelek is discovered here on record reading actual fan letters on a few separate occasions, such as on “Last Night I Rocked The Room…”. Fighting back incredulous guffaws, he joyously recites praises from a longtime fan, Victor from Singapore, concerning the gentleman’s love for the band, Sun Kil Moon’s ability to remain genuine despite intentional controversies stirred up in the media, and disdain for hipsters that only listen to Benji. Kozelek comes back too on “America’s Most Wanted Mark Kozelek” with a more sincere reflection from another grateful fan, Tanya, revealing the misunderstood character of a man whose heart surely grew three sizes that day. The aura of Kozelek’s image in society today is at its root hilarious, and more than ever, he is conveying that in a clearer mystique that only he is capable of. I often feel a little crazy myself the way his music leaves a mark on my own life. Universal Themes was an anomaly amidst a celebrated discography, perhaps alienating even the most long-suffering, loyal fans that fell in love with a sappy young hopeless romantic of decades past. I can empathize with that, yet giving credit where it’s due is surely in order for a project of this caliber. Collaborations are no diamond in the rough these days for neither Broadrick nor Kozelek, but consider for a moment the sheer oddity of such a musical fusion, 2016’s own Jekyll and Hyde.
Quite frankly, Jesu/Sun Kil Moon is overwhelming at times. Justin Broadrick isn’t merely a background toy that comes out when the duo feel like throwing a curveball at the audience. The highs and lows are beautiful in both rights, and his unorthodox talent protrudes into the mix in a strange yet charming fashion. The muddy, rough guitar of Broadrick is immediate, and hearkens to his previous bodies of work, as consuming as they are to a heavier crowd, chugs included. Does it mix with the screeching vocals of Mark Kozelek intertwined with his quiet comedowns? I wouldn’t call it a flawless execution, but then again, it’s not like it’s Metal Machine Music or Lulu (respectable projects in their own right, as I admire Lou Reed and his ability to take risks). Songs provide an elaborate basket of diversity; the middle guts of the record transition into bubbly, repeating synths that take center stage as the lead instrument, giving a full opportunity for Kozelek to let loose with slowcore influence he is so accustomed to. He’s expressed great respect for longtime friend Ben Gibbard in the past, as evidenced on Benji, yet here we find Kozelek and Broadrick intertwined in their own brand of The Postal Service’s indie-pop medleys. The swift transition in sound mid-record is further evidence to a group coming into their own, trying new things with nothing to lose.
It’s not until the tearjerker that is “Exodus” that we see the true heart of Jesu/Sun Kil Moon bursting forth in earnest intentions. Broadrick’s chugging guitar lines are put away for good, which could be for the better. An entire record of the industrial-inspired spoken word droney songwriter hodgepodge that is Jesu/Sun Kil Moon would reflect in a sour tone for listeners. Heck, that description right there tells me enough of what a gigantic cluster of ideas this record attempted to channel, and how musical stylings seemingly unrelated are all blended into one final product. Nonetheless, the two masterminds close their collaborative efforts with the ode to Nick Cave’s son, who tragically died late last year, followed by another modern adventure of Kozelek again spewing off the most random story revolving around watching television and swimming in “freeze your balls off” cold water you could ever hope to hear on “Beautiful You”. The very water he speaks of here makes him feel as alive as the listener for braving this roughly 80 minute record. Brash opinions of jest turned vile attacks on the media, as well as bands that piss him off are uniquely mirrored by the most tender appreciation and love for people that inspire and love Mark Kozelek back. He’s self-aware of his reputation to a hyperbolic degree, and above all else, it’s fun as hell to listen to his ramblings in the tabloids. Jesu/Sun Kil Moon is not without its flaws, but beyond the poorer portions of the record, “the guy from Biffy Clyro says he’s one of the greatest songwriters in the world”.