My friend remarked of Sun Kil Moon's Benji that he couldn't decide if it was awful or what he wanted music to be. Veteran singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek seems to have posed the question on purpose. He has proven himself capable of delicate, haunting structures before, particularly on April. With Benji, he seems to be up to something deliberately less formal, even formless.
The musical structures here are melancholy vamps, canvases rather than sculptures. Kozelek meanders across them in story-songs that would pass for first drafts if they didn't rhyme. Even the rhymes feel like he reached for the first word available. But then the lines end—stop with a chord change after wandering for several bars, revealing that artifice which mimics effortlessness.
Almost all the songs are about people dying or Kozelek's regrets from childhood. He has created a sort of ethnography of his own past, an oral history of himself that sounds so unpolished that it can only be the result of many drafts and much revision. Sometimes it blurs the line between music and performance art, but it as compelling as it is vexing—engrossing not despite its initially off-putting sound, but because of it.