Sun Kil Moon Goes to See the Postal Service in Casually Gutting ‘Ben’s My Friend’
That's Mr. Benjamin Gibbard, to you
The French onion soup. Or the burger. That’s what you order at Perry’s, a 44-year-old San Francisco restaurant and bar that has blue-and-white checkerboard tablecloths, breadsticks, and miscellany on the walls that includes an actual fragment of the goalpost from the 1959 NFL Championship Game. The crab cakes are probably pretty good, too, especially if — as Mark Kozelek appears to be on “Ben’s My Friend” — you’re there for brunch. His dining companion orders the eggs benedict.
This level of conversational detail, which might at first come across as over-sharing but has the cumulative effect of creating a whole world you can see and almost smell, has been particularly vital to Kozelek recently. On 2012’s Among the Leaves, that extended to colorful tidbits about the songwriting process itself in generously revealing ways: “Track Number 8″ is more than just a clever name. The self-deprecating diary-pillaging reaches into pop-culture references on the deeply melancholy “Micheline” (David Bowie) and stark, sinister “Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes” (The Sopranos).
Both of those songs are drawn from Sun Kil Moon’s upcoming album Benji, due out February 4 via Caldo Verde, which ends — and, based on the tracks shared so far, probably peaks — with “Ben’s My Friend.” The “Ben” in question here is one Benjamin Gibbard, whom the wry narrator met at a Spanish festival in 2000 and now, their levels of fame reversed and then some, is set to high-five backstage after a Postal Service show at the Greek Theatre. That doesn’t happen, and the reasons for it are powerfully illuminating about friendship, aging, and professional competition.
The acoustic guitar-based arrangement is streaked with flamenco-accented nylon string solos and gooey saxophone, the kind that might animate a song on Destroyer’s Kaputt or Jens Lekman’s I Know What Love Isn’t, and Kozelek’s hangdog vocals overlap at times here as they do elsewhere on the album, like voices in a crowded venue. “Ben’s my friend, and I know he gets it,” he assures as if shrugging. All the eccentric specificities add extra force when the former Red House Painters man punches you in the most universal language there is: “Ba, ba, ba.” Mmm, mmm good.
Listen over at Pitchfork.