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Sun Kil Moon songwriter Mark Kozelek has always drawn deeply from the autobiographical well, relishing the absurdity, embarrassment and bitter poignancy of real life. Benji’s 2012 predecessor, Among the Leaves, dealt candidly with life as a touring musician; but its extreme length made it too deep an immersion in his world.
Though shorter, Benji shares that album’s relentless nostalgia, and its stark but gentle sonic palette of mostly just acoustic guitar-picking, occasionally supported by the diffident drumming of Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley, who captures perfectly the tone of bewildered disillusion appropriate to the juvenile sexual encounters recalled in “Dogs”.
Elsewhere, Will Oldham adds subtle backing vocals to several tracks, gentle tints accentuating the songs’ desolate beauty. But this is mostly just Kozelek alone, reflecting on the pervasive melancholy that marks his life, and the randomness of death and life. If that sounds grim, it’s not: the end result is an entertaining, intelligent and profoundly moving album, which elevates the confessional approach to an existentially gripping intensity. — The Independent