The third leg of Mark Kozelek’s career has been an interesting one, to say the least. The former Red House Painters frontman has gone from being heralded with 2014’s masterful album Benji to lambasted by the music press due to a series of questionable statements and conflicts, one of those being a short-lived, albeit silly dispute with The War on Drugs. Despite it all, Kozelek’s recent output has been nothing if not prolific. He has released numerous albums in the past year alone including several collaborative albums with Jesu, Ben Boye and Jim White, and Parquet Courts’ own Sean Yeaton. The last album under the Sun Kil Moon moniker was Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood, an album that spanned two and a half hour long and featured some of the most Kozelek-esque moments out of his entire discography. Now, in 2018, Kozelek releases the next addition to the Sun Kil Moon legacy with This is My Dinner.
Listening to the albums in the latter half of Sun Kil Moon’s discography is akin to engaging in a one-sided conversation with a friend who tends to ramble on about their lives in an excruciatingly detailed manner. Much like that scenario, your enjoyment of this album will be largely decided by how patient of an individual you are and if you buy into what Kozelek is selling.
Kozelek’s stream-of-consciousness writing style is extremely long-winded and as a result, the length of these songs can dip into the ten-plus-minute mark. What most listeners will understand among listening to this album is this: Mark Kozelek is done, when he’s done. If he has something that he wants to say, he’ll get it done whether that takes two minutes or twelve minutes. At its worst, the tracks tend to meander along and end with nary an interesting moment. However, this approach to songwriting works well if you are willing to immerse yourself into what is being said. There aren’t many musicians that are able to make this style work, but Kozelek is a rare breed in this regard.
This is My Dinner details every aspect of Sun Kil Moon’s 2017 European tour and, as per usual, Mark Kozelek goes into detail about everything. The topical gamut on this album ranges from a negative verbal interaction with a venue at Frankfurt on “This is Not Possible”, the death of David Cassidy on the track titled after him, and lamenting about a restaurant in Stockholm that serves reindeer on “Candles”. There’s even a cover of AC/DC’s “Rock and Roll Singer”, which Kozelek had previously covered twice beforehand.
This album acts as an auditory travelogue of the entire European trip and like any good travelogue, it manages to tie in an excellent narrative with the locations that are visited. Again, these may seem very trivial, and in some cases they absolutely are. Still, little moments like these are what makes listening to Sun Kil Moon albums so engaging. The attention to detail on these tracks are so minute, down to the absolute smallest detail.
Got a lot of good memories here in Stockholm
Last time I saw Elliott Smith was at the Accelerator Festival
July 5th, 2000, a beautiful sunny day
I wish I would’ve hugged him goodbye
But I figured I’d see him again another day
Maybe in San Francisco or L.A
But as things turned out it didn’t work out that way
One of the most controversial parts of any Mark Kozelek related project is the man himself. His personality is nothing short of abrasive at times, but there are many moments of self-reflection and introspection as well. The allure of someone like Kozelek is that he tends to be very opinionated, yet manages to be self-aware about his own flaws and mortality. This is My Dinner is honestly one of Kozelek’s most “tame” albums in a long while. He’s more pensive than usual. If anything, this makes him out to be a very human figure and the experiences are heightened. Take an hour or so and listen to what Kozelek is saying and there are moments where you feel present with him during the story. The narratives that Kozelek weaves are loose, but simultaneously feel cohesive. A story he tells about Copenhagen ties oddly with one that takes place in Paris and Barcelona. The level of detail in the songwriting just furthers this point.
Instrumentally, This is My Dinner is very simple and it’s the albums primary flaw, alongside Kozelek’s deadpan delivery. Common as Light‘s instrumental palate was a smorgasbord of sounds from hip-hop to soft-rock. This album flows along with repetitive drums and chord progressions. The result is an album that feels like it can drag on. As for Kozelek himself, his delivery feels so blatantly lazy that it borders on self-parody. Far and away are the beautiful and heart-wrenching moments from Among The Leaves and Benji where his voice was drenched in sorrow and conviction. This sense of despondency that has permeated Kozelek’s latest musical odyssey is easily the biggest blemish on an otherwise solid album.
This is My Dinner sees Sun Kil Moon sticking with the familiar playbook of their last few albums. It can be easy to criticize Kozelek for his approach to songwriting and trust, that many individuals have done so. The wintery tone of this album is immersive, yet can feel like a slog on occasion. While there is plenty of quality on this album, one can only question where Sun Kil Moon goes from here. Is there a chance that Kozelek goes back to the titular songwriting of his early albums or will he stick with this oppressive rambling style? One can only wonder.