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February 20, 2014 at 11:30 AM

Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek lays it on the line | Concert preview

Sun Kil Moon

San Franciscan singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek plays Seattle’s Neptune Theatre this Friday. Photo by Gabriel Shepard.

For three decades, Mark Kozelek — who headlines The Neptune Friday — has recorded and performed under his own name, and the aliases Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon.

The Ohio-born, San Francisco-based artist’s catalog is unique, beguiling and deep, from highlights like the Painters’ self-titled 1993 slowcore opus and the classic rock heroics of Sun Kil’s 2003 debut “Ghosts of the Great Highway” to oddities like whole albums of Modest Mouse and AC/DC covers.

In 2013 alone, he released four full-lengths, most notably a mellow, jazzy collaboration with the Bay Area instrumental rock trio Desertshore.

But “Benji,” his newest, trumps them all.

Kozelek’s sound itself isn’t without precedent. There’s some Leonard Cohen in his resonant baritone and spartan arrangements, a bit of Neil Young in his reliance on open tunings and deliberate tempos. Contemporaries like Seattle’s Damien Jurado and the late Jason Molina — also an Ohio native — have written from a similarly soul-baring headspace.

Lyrically, however, “Benji” is distinctive. Eleven tracks totaling 5,000 words, it’s both album and tell-all autobiography.

Exchanging his hollow-body Gibson guitar for a nylon-stringed acoustic, Kozelek — joined by a supporting cast involving fellow singer-songwriter Will Oldham and former Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley — spends a full hour taking inventory of his art, his life and the people, places and experiences that have shaped it.

Death and destruction loom large on “Benji,” which, in addition to eulogies for relatives and friends, examines mass-media portrayals of assisted suicide, school shootings and serial killers.

Elsewhere, the 47-year-old singer-guitarist plumbs the depths of his own memory, musing on his relationships with his parents, lovers, peers, bandmates and music in general.

The LP’s lucid production puts the listener in the room with Kozelek, its songs’ generous lengths and circuitous structures granting him time and space to articulate in painstaking detail the who, what, where, when and how of each story, though often — as in life — there’s no why.

Kozelek has never pandered to his audience, and while some people might be taken aback or even weirded out by “Benji’s” weightiness, others will find themselves fascinated by the stark honesty of its narratives.

In either context — as a standalone album, or as part of the Red House Painters/Sun Kil Moon continuum — this is conspicuously good work from a compelling career musician.

Kozelek’s intimate live shows are as immersive as his records, so plan on leaving your phone and camera at home, and keeping requests to yourself.

With new material like this, you won’t need them.

Sun Kil Moon
8 p.m. Friday at The Neptune Theatre, 1303 NE 45th St., Seattle; $20-23 (206-682-1414 or

Comments | More in Americana, Folk, Rock/Pop | Topics: indie, San Francisco, The Neptune


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