Kirk LaPointe

Kirk LaPointe
Beatles in concert at six, first Pink Floyd album at nine, Hendrix in concert at 10, pretty hard to shake that.

The delicate, sensitive and smartly restrained and ethereal music of Dutch-born, Belgian-based Chantal Acda has a strong and attractive new platform on The Sparkle in Our Flaws.
Another wise collaboration with the versatile Peter Broderick, Valgeir Sigurdsson and Shahzad Ismaily, and another opportunity to blend the experimental qualities of economic arrangement with a whispering and haunting vocal, the album is less a progression than an extension of her other solo project, 2013’s Let Your Hands Be My Guide.
Acda has recorded, too, as Sleepingdog, but her step-outside-the-group albums are far more intimate, secure and compelling. There are touches of expansion — a lilting saxophone on The Other Way, for instance — but Acda plays nicely inside a great sandbox as the leader and focal point. Games is a particular highlight, perhaps the best song she’s constructed, and the title track is its most muscular, but there aren’t noticeable weak points. Arguably the album’s greatest assets are its consistency and its commitment to melody. Acda is a singer you can hear endlessly. The addition of two live tracks nicely caps the work.
No one should live under an illusion that this is bracing, bustling music. The Sparkle in Our Flaws is hypnotic and effective, understated and poignant, slow to reveal its hand. A more striking album this year (and it should be heard as an album, not as tunes) will be hard to recommend.

Another quarter, another opportunity to take stock of 2015’s music.

I spend nearly as much time listening now as I did in my teens, only now it is in a car at the commuting bookends of a workday and with headphones in consuming online media at night. The headphones were there as a teen, but online wasn’t, and the car was just an ambition.

In the second quarter of 2015, I counted more than 60 albums tried on for size via streams and downloads. I would guess that a half-dozen of them will stick in the collection and another half-dozen are possibilities. A couple are bound to be among my top selections for 2015.

There were several great discoveries this quarter: the Jenny Hval album (Apocalypse, girl) was the best among them, unrivalled for its lyrical power and aural sophistication; Leon Bridges (Coming Home) provided an authentic path into soul and gospel; the hometown White Poppy (Natural Phenomena) was the most thoughtful electronic release (although Brian Eno also put out a great electronic album in recent weeks, so it’s perhaps a draw); Andreya Triana (Giants) offered potential in her pop; Gang of Youths (The Positions) produced the first album with an aggressive taste of summer; Brown Birds (Axis Mundi) was a plaintive, posthumous find; Eskimeaux (O.K.) delivered a fragile, vulnerable recording; and Emilie Nicolas (Like I’m A Warrior) and Nadine Shah (Fast Food) came at their mostly successful recordings with real confidence. I’ll want to hear more from all of them.

There were two anticipated releases in the quarter worth the wait. Alabama Shakes took its sound to an entirely new level and range with Sound and Color, while The XX’s Jamie XX produced In Color, a restrained but sonically smart recording. With Sound and Color, we got a much fuller, more mature and versatile group; with In Color, we got a clearer sense of his role in a larger group and his leanings as a solo artist.

Some artists you just want to stay the same, so the albums from Of Monsters and Men (Beneath The Skin) and The Milk Carton Kids (Monterey) fit their forms snugly and gave us more of what made them so attractive in the first place — offbeat pop in the first instance, glorious harmony in the second. They didn’t digress but just added substance to their earlier recordings. Nothing wrong with that at all. Same with Kacey Musgrave’s insightful country album, Pageant Material, a lyrical feat; she should just keep creating those clever tracks that make you smirk.

Florence and The Machine advanced its sound at times in its third recording, adding instruments and deepening the arrangements while preserving space for modern rock’s best voice. There was more risk in How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, and while there wasn’t quite the roster of memorable material of the last album, the band accomplished an artistic step without jumping overboard. Same went for Sharon Van Etten’s all-too-brief EP, a nice extension of her last album with just a taste of new sound.

New sounds are not always successful. Witness Mumford & Sons and their foray into electric. Retrieve the banjo and acoustic guitar, please.

In some cases, it’s not so much about new sounds as all sounds. Miguel’s exceptional Wildheart is a profound blend of genres, almost a roll call of his exploration in recent years. It’s slow to appreciate because it operates with such cross-genre complexity, textured and tricky to unpack. It will wear well.

And while we’re on the subject of the well-worn, it’s important to put in a good word for the remastered, augmented 40th-anniversary release of The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, a five-star album in any collection. I first bought this album on an eight-track tape (I recall Wild Horses was actually split in order to accommodate the format), but the remastered version makes a few elements spring to new life, and the bonus tracks are mostly fun (Jagger’s incomprehensible lyrics on this version of Can’t You Hear Me Knocking are almost self-parody).

The most intriguing recording came from the merger of two groups of different generations. Franz Ferdinand has been a playful, angular band in its decade of creative rock, but its wistfulness has nothing on the eccentricities of Sparks, the 1970s band led by brothers Ron and Russell Mael. Somehow these two entities long sought an association, and FFS is the exceptional collaboration: witty, catchy, and the sum greater than its parts. The campiness of Sparks lends a light touch to Franz, and the full-blooded sound of Franz lends a contemporary sound to Sparks. They work well for each other: best Franz album in some time, best Sparks album in memory.

Driving, running, and writing, music is my major backdrop.

In 2015’s first three months, I’ve listened to perhaps 70 new albums — many of them not all the way through but some many times over — and here is what I still like.

Catchiest song: While I don’t favour the Death Cab for Cutie album overall, Black Sun has been a repeated play for weeks now.

Best discoveries: Desperate Journalist, a thrashing rock foursome from England with a female singer who channels Morrissey at times; Ibeyi, Cuban-French twin sisters with jazz, beats and Latin flavour behind wonderful voices; James Bay, a British singer who has a great sense of melody; Petite Noir, a South African modern pop singer.

Most intriguing concept album: Public Service Broadcasting’s The Race for Space, which samples speeches, ground control-to-spaceship conversations and propaganda from the 1960s venture to outer limits and embeds them in mostly lush sound with the occasional funk detour.

Best collaboration: The Chopin Project from Ólafur Arnalds and Alice Sara Ott, striking and lovely interpretations of the classical compositions, with a little bit of their playfulness in the mix.

One-word welcome-backs of great recordings: Bill Fay (warmth), Drake (drama), Godspeed You! Black Emperor (intensity), Laura Marling (electrified), Sufjan Stevens (grounded).

Album most of the 21st century: Future Brown, the self-titled debut from the Los Angeles-based production group, which grafts music from every continent but Antarctica. A truly global-sounding hip-hop recording.

The most talked-about: Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly will take some time to unpack, but it plays like a novel, a documentary and a stage production at once. It is the most insightful music I heard in the year.

Two great rugged records: Courtney Barnett’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, is an exceptionally sharp and droll recording, laced with Aussie attitude; Waxahatchee’s Ivy Tripp is a great step forward for Katie Crutchfield and places her in the front ranks of emerging American writers.

Which brings me to: Björk, and Vulnicura, my favourite by far so far in 2015. Memo to the world: Don’t break up with her, because she will get the last word. While her recent work flagged from excessive experiment, Vulnicura is accessible, stirring, sentimental, angry and sorrowful. Its centrepiece, the extraordinary 10-minute Black Lake, is as strong as anything she’s produced. And, paired with producer Arca, the blend of electronic and strings doesn’t render a weak moment.

No matter that I’ve had some distractions this year, new music is a constant presence. Year’s end is a good time to summarize, and while it was more difficult this year to single out an album as a far-and-away preference, there was no shortage of great music across the genres.

There were several albums that came close in the running for my top 10, but I found them a little transitory on the iPod (Neneh Cherry, LaRoux, Sylvan Esso, Perfect Pussy, Angel Olsen). Some of the recordings I spent time with were clearly larger-than-life but were either too polished for my liking (Beyoncé), too distracted (D’Angelo), too thin (The War on Drugs), too crude (Sleaford Mods) or too much of an artistic departure from form (Sharon Van Etten). Van Etten’s move into a richer, textured and fully-formed sound was a departure I’m still debating.

There were many absences from my typical top 10: No jazz album (David Virelles and Fred Hersch produced good ones, though), no Canadiana (New Pornographers, White Lung and Caribou were close calls), no country (Sturgill Simpson would have made my top 15), no major stars (some terrible steps backward this year by a lot of big artists), and precious little hip-hop (Drake and Kanye, get on with it).

My top 10 came from a list of about 200 albums I sampled, streamed, downloaded and bought. In reverse order:

10. There is usually one rough-and-tumble album on my list, but the only one close to that this year was the strong self-titled offering from Warpaint, a band I wish I’d seen because I have the sense the album is constraining. Still, there was much to like about its mix of aggression and melody.

9. Sia is a better writer than many of her counterparts in this modern pop realm. I thought 1000 Forms of Fear was the best presentation yet of her talent, even if it was a supersized meal.

8. The Aphex Twin recording, Syro, was the electronic album I most enjoyed this year and one of the most sonically challenging yet pleasing. Richard David James is a big emerging leader in this field.

7. FKA Twigs’ LP1 was promising, thoughtful, durable, and thoroughly modern, so it kept me intrigued every time I heard it. I regret not seeing her perform; had a ticket, just didn’t go.

6. The debut Broken Twin album, May, was the most beautiful recording I heard this year. Majke Voss Romme sounds like Margo Timmins in her prime, and this was one of the best recordings I heard when I wrote or read.

5. The Run The Jewels album, Run The Jewels 2, was anything but a background recording. It was the most lyrically inventive, intense music I heard this year, and I can understand why it topped many critics’ polls.

4. The vigorous synth-pop Future Islands album, Singles, found a regular place on my playlists after I saw the band perform on Late Night with David Letterman (the most-watched music video in the show’s history), and it might have been my top album were it not for its slight unevenness.

3. Mark Kozelek, recording under Sun Kil Moon, created a dark, morose, folk-inflected album, Benji, that was initially striking, ultimately a little difficult to hear repeatedly, but inspiringly written.

2. I am susceptible to the siren sound of heavily produced, keyboard-laden female artists (Florence, Grimes, Poliça come to mind), so the Banks album this year found its way into regular play and never really relented. Goddess was my favourite debut album.

1. My favourite album this year was one I frankly don’t know if I’ll be savouring. But I kept hearing something new each time with the Perfume Genius release, Too Bright, a sonically diverse stage for Mike Hadreas and an exceptionally personal recording of real artistry. In some years I select an album that summarized the year, and in years like this, I chose an album that hints of the future.

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Nostalgia is a funny thing. There are wisps of embarrassment nestled in the pride of one’s history. The person you are today may not be the person you were then, when you liked a television show, a style of clothing, or a band, and it may surprise people to know you were someone who liked something.

But The Steve Miller Band was a guilty pleasure tucked away in the 1970s and into the 1980s. Amid all the progressive music I consumed, there was a safe haven for its albums in my collection. In hindsight I can now appreciate the exceptional craft of his songwriting, but back then what he created seemed so simple and comfortable that it was hard not to like. They were one of the least dislikable bands of my time, meaning that even non-fans weren’t real detractors, and that said something about him.

What could not have been clear then was how durable the songs would remain, how the tunes were so solid as to withstand the effect of time on style and substance. There was a hippie peacefulness about them, too, not a whiff of darkness in the biggest of the songs. Try finding that today.

For some reason, it took nearly four decades after I first heard Steve Miller to see him. He wasn’t on a particular bucket list. He wasn’t anything necessarily urgent to take in. But like all artists of that era, and as a fan from that era, we know there aren’t an infinite number of opportunities ahead to connect. I didn’t want to never have seen an artist I have spent hundreds, maybe thousands of hours hearing.

His concert Saturday night in nearby Coquitlam was in a casino concert hall, with a high ticket price (the most I’ve paid in recent memory for a show), and an adoring, packed house. There is something terribly smart about these events: they start pretty much on time, they don’t make you endure an opening act, they get to the point of the night succinctly, and they don’t overstay their welcome. You’re out of there around 10. The night is ahead, or you can get to sleep at a reasonable hour. I take in enough of the club shows with two substandard opening acts and an 11 p.m. headliner to appreciate the occasional respect for the audience.

If we want to see where there is real money in the music business, it is in the payback these artists of the last generation receive from the casinos of the world. They may have been worked over with bad record deals and shabby tours decades earlier, but they can make up for some of it now on this sweet circuit that expects only that they are faithful to the memories. If you’re in that select cohort of about 250 of these artists, you can make these the marquee events on regional tours.

Miller, at 70, still has that signature voice, a blend of Texas and California by way of Chicago, and he can reel off such a repertoire: Jungle Love, Swingtown and Abracadra in the first 15 minutes alone, without making anyone feel like the best is done. He remains an adept if not showy guitarist, and if he isn’t quite gregarious onstage, he is at least generous with a setlist: Rock N’ Me, Jet Airliner, The Joker, Take the Money and Run, and of course, Fly Like An Eagle, along with a smart, short acoustic set in the middle of what was otherwise a nice cruise-control rock show. His only musical hazard is in taking people way, way back to the 1960s; what is clear is that his audience caught him a few years later.

I suspect this was about 95 per cent of the show he had 35 years ago. There is such an ease and economy in his performance that has obviously permitted him to preserve the chord-by-chord concert over the years. What he created then he can do now. Miller is, like all smart artists, surrounded by good players, and I came away thinking they were committed to the songs, even after all these performances. The audience gets at least what it expects, a return for a couple of hours to a less complicated time in which music seemed more enthusiastic and even a Steve Miller song could feel like it was bending a rule.

It is worth remembering that Miller had trouble getting The Joker played on AM radio because of its reference to marijuana, that he had to create a different version of Jet Airliner to remove the s-word, that Fly Like An Eagle was considered politically daring, or that for all of his success, he has never had a Number One album in America (although he has had two in Canada).

It is also worth remembering, and celebrating, what one liked in early adulthood. Nostalgia has a real place in life.

At college, you either loved Roxy Music or you couldn’t because you hadn’t heard of them. It was the progressive art-rock band of its time, and its time stretched reasonably for nearly two decades.

Many of us Roxy purists accepted Love is the Drug as a single that brought attention to its earlier work, but most of us drew the line with Avalon and believed that whatever jumping the shark was called back then had happened. Thankfully, no more Roxy records, because that was heading down an alley the early investors in the sound could not abide. Still, singer Bryan Ferry would reemerge with a strong enough solo career to keep that campy, cosmopolitan sound alive.

I have seen Ferry in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and, after tonight, the 2010s. He still wears the best clothes (his jacket tonight is similar to the one from the 2012 image atop this review), has a suave cool-older-brother presence onstage, and says little and leaves much to the imagination. Even though his upper register has gone and the bellow is mellower, there remains much to like. There is also much to remember, because his influence is likely only surpassed by Bowie in that genre. Robert Christgau argued that, without Roxy Music, there likely wouldn’t have been Talking Heads or Devo or any number of the avant-garde.

Ferry opened his tour in Vancouver with an eight-piece band (meaningful that women were on drums and saxophone/oboe/keyboards and could hammer home every beat and note), and brought an eclectic selection from a large vault for us to hear. It started with the first song on the first Roxy album, Re-Make/Re-Model, paid strong homage to the earliest of the work, skimped on several mid-career albums, dropped into Avalon briefly, threw a few solo songs in, and left most everyone wanting a little more.

Roxy Music and Ferry in solo performances have always, somewhat confoundingly, left some of the expected out and dropped some of the unexpected in. There is still a form of restlessness in the repertoire, as if revisiting will make those lesser songs greater. So, no Mother of Pearl, no Song for Europe, no Sentimental Fool, no Thrill of It All, no Out of the Blue, Do The Strand or Virginia Plain. But we got In Every Dream Home A Heartache, Let’s Stick Together, Kiss & Tell, the J.J.Cale cover Same Old Blues and Lennon’s Jealous Guy in a generous performance of more than an hour-and-a-half.

When you indulge nostalgia and take in artists of your youth, the unfortunate context is the memory of the earlier performances. Without them, I guess, you wouldn’t come out in the first place, but it means that you measure what has been lost and retained more than what is presented and asserted. You listen for a note that can no longer be reached or a nuance that now doesn’t appear, and you hope (at times hopelessly) there will not be cringe-worthy moments. (There weren’t any. Ferry still has it together.)

So, the strengths of tonight were first and foremost a top-flight band that was faithful almost to a tee to the records. (The last Roxy part-reunion would veer a little too far.) He has surrounded himself with ace players and that bodes well for the tour.

There weren’t terribly many weaknesses. Obviously the voice can’t be what it once was, as distinct as anything in modern music, but it held its own often enough to pass the test, particularly in mid-set. It was a little disappointing how much time Ferry spent at the keyboard out of the limelight, off-putting for such a charismatic focal point to be so stealthy at times. We were there to see and hear him, and we didn’t get quite enough of either. Only at the end of the set did he rouse the crowd from its seats (and keep it there through a lengthy encore) with Love is the Drug.

But he is, after all, 68. Will any of us be that way at 68? Not much chance any of us could be Bryan Ferry at 68.

[Feature photo:  Bryan Ferry feat. The Bryan Ferry Orchestra by Bruno Bollaert]

It is only the end of March, but my favourite album so far in the year is a quirky, left-field blend of synth, pop, growl and howl from Future Islands. Singles is singularly formidable. I can’t get it out of my bloodstream, perhaps because it has made the reminiscent so current.

Part of what has made it compelling was the band’s recent performance on The Late Show with David Letterman, supposedly the most-watched video in the program’s history, notable mainly for the hip-swivel-heavy presence of singer Samuel T. Herring. But I only saw the video after a week or so with the album, and I didn’t think the single from Singles—Seasons (Waiting on You)—was its best, second-best, or third-best track. Still, it’s a tremendous video; fans of the band even say its concerts are unmatched by the recordings.

Future Islands is by no means a new band. Its earlier work I found to be jagged, a little incoherent and rushed, and struggling for an identity. Several things coalesce with Singles: a narrower range that builds a clearer character, a far stronger feel for pop and its essential hook, and a developed confidence that seems to brim with swagger. It’s a band arriving with an album that properly signals so.

The music I like most, no matter the scale, has drama, ambition, heart and grandeur. But I can’t say synthesizer-propelled rock has been much in my mix, mainly because it often sounds either corny, clinical or unassertive. Retro is good, dated is not. Future Islands, equipped with techniques and instruments largely with us two decades ago, navigates those shoals easily. There is an industrial, muscular yet familiar twist in what it does on Singles. The songs never feel of an age.

True enough, Herring can be an affected singer, what with punctuating accents that sound like he’s non-North American, and the regular, guttural belt. But he pushes the ethereal sound around wisely with extended phrasing and escapes the keyboard/percussion container often to hog the aural moment, the stuff of rock stars.

Songs I thought were initially weak (Like The Moon, Sun in the Morning) have grown, songs I thought would run their course (Doves, Light House, Fall From Grace) have worn very well. Again, we’re just entering April, but I think this will be a keeper.

Arthur-BeatriceIt never tires to rather randomly find a band, sample a couple of songs quickly in a store or a stream, and take a chance that an album will be worth a full hearing and then some. Decades of this ritual still deliver.

Arthur Beatrice is my latest under-the-radar holding. Their sweet, sophisticated debut album seemingly took some time to emerge from the pipeline, but they have struck a confident (if chill) and mature chord. The London foursome’s Working Out has been my go-to recording for a couple of weeks now.

When you want to demonstrate range, it helps to have two singers. Ella Girardot and Orlando Leopard (aka Orlando Sheppard) will strike some as a bit The XX (my comparison would be a lighter sibling of Florence and much lighter younger sibling of Morrissey), but they take turns to guide the songs with taste and restraint. When they work together, it’s more than the sum of their parts.

The song structures on Working Out are simple variations on sleek, subtly rhythmic jazz, blues and blue-eyed soul on the outskirts of pop. There is a steer-clear of rock and a slight bow to classical. The sleeper in the mix is percussion. It is much more dark than light music, more thoughtful and reflective than exuberant and buoyant, so it has to fit one’s mood. But it isn’t solemn. There is a lovely lilt to it.

Albums of this sort only work well if they don’t peter out, if the back end of the recording still holds up, and what I value most in my early listenings is how consistent is its quality and how little it ever fades.

Most of the critical focus has been on the singles Midland and Grand Union, but what first captured me was Girardot’s vocals on Late and on More Scrapes. I revert at times to the word “plaintive” to describe vocals I like, but it applies here. She has an immediately comfortable presence.

I suspect the band’s name is a take-off on the comedic actress Bea Arthur (TV’s Maude). Then again, who knows? The group has quietly released a few songs, kept the slightest of profiles, and surfaced for this album with a relatively low-key club tour planned on both sides of the ocean. The deliberateness of the approach suggests confidence and a no-rush career arc.

I have to think the songs will have more punch in concert, and there are times I might have liked a little injection of energy, but on a recording they are durably produced and arranged. Working Out is an easy album to like.

You will see a stock image of Mark Kozelek atop this review for a reason. I was close to the stage last night and his ban on photography (and cell phones) was such that I just knew he would wince, bristle and probably bark if a flash went off in the dimly lit Biltmore Cabaret.

Kozelek leads Sun Kil Moon, whose wondrous new album, Benji, was one of the reasons the club was teeming. But he is a curious, unnecessarily caustic performer, uncomfortable with crowd bustle, obsessed with shushing us for silence, and ready to be a tad nasty to the patrons about their age or their between-song chat.

His first words were to ask the crowd to be quiet. His second words were how happy he was not to be in Victoria because it was a city of grandmothers. He stopped a song when he heard a washroom toilet flush. He snapped at someone who asked how long he’d been on tour. He recalled his putdown to a British concertgoer earlier on his tour who got snarky about Kozelek’s incessant tuning of his admittedly sensitive nylon-stringed guitar. He couldn’t understand why there wasn’t a better 400-capacity club in the city. He made fun of someone’s resemblance to Billy Idol and the pack of middle-aged men (full disclosure: I was amid them) to one side of the stage. In short, he projected his own anxiety wonderfully and kept us detached and off-kilter.

Which is, in surprising ways, incongruent with the humane, intimate, absorbing writing on Benji and his prolific and often profound body of work with Sun Kil Moon and other collaborations. Kozelek is a wordy writer, and his lyrics spill all over the boundaries of his melodies on Benji, but they form the basis of a remarkable album and he played almost all of it (strange omission: the accessible Song for Newtown) in what proved to be a generous set list.

He uses reverb and the effect is a mixed bag. He has such a clear, penetrating voice and I wonder if the show would have benefited from a more direct (apart from his quips), less ethereal presentation. His two sidemen were a little ill-placed at times, too, drums a bit overwhelming and keyboards a little underwhelming, until later in the set when they settled in.

Benji’s motif is death. In almost every song, except for the odes to his parents and a neighbourhood friend, someone is biting the dust: a second cousin, an uncle, the wife of a family friend, the victims of a serial killer, the children of Newtown. But there hasn’t been a more beautiful batch of folk music in recent memory and the reviewers are properly praising its emotional depth. Unsettling and disturbing can also making for excellent art, and my sense of Kozelek is that he does this as a respectable labour of true love.

Mostly the band’s performance of these songs (particularly in setting the tone in the first three tracks, the same three that start the album) lifted them out of the spartan recorded territory into a different genre and gave them a new jolt of energy. If you were familiar with the new album, you could appreciate the new context provided by the performance. If you weren’t, the show was a solid entry point.

It is true the Biltmore is a challenging venue and there is no defence for how it presents music. Sight lines to a low-lying stage are such that, if you’re not within 30 feet of the stage, you might as well not be there. And to play quiet music when so many can’t really see you is asking much of a crowd, particularly when you’re playing for more than 90 minutes. But fussing over this as a performer, particularly when you need about 30 seconds to tune your guitar pretty well every song, kills the vibe more than not. The Biltmore is not the crowd’s fault and the span it takes to prepare for the next song cannot be expected to be quiet time.

Did I love the music? Absolutely. Could I have loved it more in a different setting? Absolutely. Could I have used less byplay? You know the answer.

Benji, the extraordinarily authentic and vividly written new album from Sun Kil Moon, is not for the faint-hearted. It is lyrically calamitous: death everywhere, near and far. It is intimate: explicit and awkward moments of family and self abound. Darkness pervades, pain and misery persist, and the record would be too much to handle if it weren’t so prettily crafted and commanding.

The vehicle for San Francisco vocalist/guitarist/composer Mark Kozelek is an exquisite blend of mastered instruments, candid story lines, and whiffs of Neil Young, Bill Callahan and Richard Buckner. “I’ll go to my grave with my melancholy,” he sings. I think you get my drift here. Benji is enervating for its comfortable, loving occupation of difficult straits and dysfunction. You can’t wait to listen to it again, but really, you need to.

Kozelek is a renowned boxing enthusiast (the band is named after Korean Sung-Kil Moon), yet the sound in Benji is gently giant, accepting, even celebratory of small tenderness and presence. We are brought in the first lines into his life (with, yes, a death, that of his second cousin), and while it is unclear how much of these song scenes are fact and fiction, both are convincing. Kozelek writes persuasively and attractively, wry and frank, as if on a reflective purge. We learn he loves his parents and, even deep in muck, likely loves himself.

To reiterate: This is not party music. It is soft-spoken, attention-demanding foreground folk. The melodies are subtler than the words carrying them. But it is memorably poetic, genuine in its appreciation of small joys and large life lessons, and recommended for great listeners.



Kirk LaPointe