Sun Kil Moon’s sixth LP Benji is really more a series of stories set to music than a compilation of songs with lyrics. His songwriting style reminds me of Bob Dylan, whose songs often told similar stories about love and struggle—coming from me, that is a huge compliment.
What sets Sun Kil Moon apart from other storytellers, however, is that every story is true. He adds small details that locate the listener in place and time to reinforce this notion of an underlying truth, but they’re almost unnecessary because I just believe him. In all 11 songs on the LP, someone dies, someone falls in or out of love, and Sun Kil Moon says something melancholy about it all. In a particularly moving song called “Jim Wise,” he tells the story of visiting his father’s friend who is about to go to jail for mercifully euthanizing his wife and then failing at his own suicide immediately afterward. This song is especially successful because it is in many ways subtler than the other tracks, which tend to smack you in the face with their messages. Take, for instance, the two songs dedicated to his mother and father: “I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love” and “I Love My Dad.” I have to believe that Sun Kil Moon is at least partially joking with these absurd titles, but the sentiment behind them is definitely real.
My one real beef with Benji is that the music seems to take a backseat to the lyrics. As skilled of a guitarist as he is, Sun Kil Moon comes off more as a poet who decided to accompany his words with music than as a musician at heart. The LP suffers a bit from this prioritization, but it remains one of the best overall compositions I’ve heard this year.