Sun Kil Moon – Universal Themes
Less than a year after releasing the critically acclaimed Benji, a diary-like excoriation of family deaths, parental love, and all things ex-girlfriend, Mark Kozelek’s Sun Kil Moon returns with Universal Themes. Are there boxing references? Are there cats? Are there moony eyes for girls in foreign cities? Yes, yes, and yes. There is also Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth) on drums, which seems to occasionally tease out Kozelek’s aggression here and there, like on “With a Sort of Grace I Walked to the Bathroom to Cry,” a take on a friend’s protracted illness.
The eight songs have very extended durations, which means they have room to meander in a great variety of unexpected and sometimes unconnected directions. Like how opener “The Possum” veers from being about the mortally wounded titular mammal to a Godflesh concert in San Francisco to a quiet contemplation on mortality… which is at the root of most recent Kozelek songs. That manifests itself at times in something grim and close, and in others he takes a blackly comic swing, as in “Cry Me a River Williamsburg Sleeve Tattoo Blues,” which weighs a fan’s unsatisfying experience at a Sun Kil Moon concert against a laundry list of tragedies too long and weighty to mention.
Ultimately this album, like Benji, is an unfiltered outpouring of details both mundane and impactful. Tour dates, favourite albums, doctor’s appointments, friends dying, working in the backyard garden, flip phones… nothing is too small or too great to consider. What makes it work more often than not is that Kozelek’s left-hand windmill of details is distracting you from the strong right hand jab that cuts through the noise, flooring you with its truth or its beauty.