This Jesu/Sun Kil Moon article was written by Ben Malkin, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Michael Liggins.
When Mark Kozelek – mainly known by his project title, Sun Kil Moon – isn’t feuding with The War on Drugs, he’s writing and releasing some of the most stellar music of the past few years: from 2014’s ‘Benji’ to its follow-up ‘Universal Themes’. His music has become more insightful and surreal in his middle age thanks in part to the emphasis he has thrown at the more heartbreaking moments in his life, some of it regarding loved ones dying. The lyrical content is usually backed by a sharp, guitar-based, folky instrumental display, which provided background beauty to his cameo appearance in the film ‘Youth’.
However, on this record Kozelek teams up with Justin Broadrick of Welsh experimental act Jesu. Therefore a lot of the usual folk influence has been ditched in favour of Jesu’s brand of post-rock.
A few Kozelek trademarks remain; the tracks are long and story-heavy, with some bleakness. In a way, the standard Sun Kil Moon formula looks like it’s being done to death. Straight away with opening track ‘Good Morning My Love’ the emanating tales just sound like everything else he’s been doing, yet somehow less compelling. Kozelek’s ramblings drag here-and-there, especially with the length of some of the songs. The amazing thing about ‘Benji’ was that it wasn’t necessarily a deliberately melancholy, crippling album. It was a collection of life stories and memories, most of which just happened to be very painful. On this album there’s less feeling but maybe that’s because in true post-rock fashion, his vocals – despite always being there – aren’t necessarily the forefront and production-wise they’re a bit more tucked away than what we’re used to.
As far as Jesu’s contributions go, the instrumentals are raw and distorted. The chord progressions are actually both useful and enjoyable and there’s some really nice attention to detail in places, whether it be charming guitar melodies or sparkling Postal Service-esque snyth lead/pad combos. It’s hard not to love the background guitar parts in ‘A Song of Shadows’.
As mentioned, Kozelek’s vocals fused with Jesu instrumentals isn’t the greatest amalgamation, at times they repel more than attract. A few of the electric guitar-heavy tracks – like the aforementioned opener and its successor ‘Carondelet’ – are fairly reminiscent of one or two songs from ‘Universal Themes’.
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‘Father’s Day’ feels really unfitting, ‘Exodus’ isn’t as underwhelming a collaboration but still drags, however long-time Kozelek fans can be pleased with the folky ‘Fragile’. So the folk style still exists on this album, it just isn’t toted around like a proverbial pistol.
Maybe Sun Kil Moon has been mentioned here a bit too much; the lush Jesu instrumentals are actually really nice on the ears for the most part but while they have their purpose on this album, maybe they would’ve been better suited for a different project. But while Kozelek will be getting more mentions, it is simply because this is very much a Sun Kil Moon record, one where Kozelek continues the recite memories and reference other songs he’s written, like in the final track ‘Beautiful You’. And while the reminiscing and the call-backs of the writing can be captivating at times, the overall result of this collaboration is a mixed one.
‘Jesu/Sun Kil Moon’ is out now via Caldo Verde Records