Album Picks: Sun Kil Moon, Tinariwen, Snowbird

Posted by Billy Gil, February 11, 2014 08:48am | Post a Comment

Sun Kil Moon - Benji (CD or Download)

The prolific Mark Kozelek has been undergoing a career renaissance of sorts. Whereas songs in his ’90s project Red House Painters were often autobiographical, if morose and romantic, if, to call his recent releases with Sun Kil Moon confessional would be an understatement. Not only is Benji a classic example oversharing in the social media age, it’s just a new classic period, the best thing he’s done since RHP’s heyday. Two songs directly address Kozelek’s love for his aging parents as he himself hits middle age (“I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love” and “I Love My Dad” are far from ironic, though they cover ground beyond what their titles suggest). “Dogs” covers Kozelek’s history with women in sometimes excruciating detail, from his first kiss at 5 to getting bathed by two women. Part of what makes Benji so masterful is how Kozelek blends rich physical details, with references to Panera Bread and Pink Floyd records, along with impressionistic accounts, such as his atmospheric telling of what caught his attention in a Led Zeppelin film (“I Watched the Film the Song Remains the Same”) and what that says about him as a person. It can be a lot to take in at once—“Micheline” at first feels like a diary dump, though it ends on a touching note about his grandmother—but most of the time, the details are funny or poignant or both, coming through clearly with little more than Kozelek’s wavering, creaking voice and reverbed acoustic guitar. “Ben’s My Friend,” which ends the album with its catchiest song (and curiosity value, due to its titular subject being Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie), is a sterling reminder of how many little things add up to the sum of our lives, making a pretty refrain out of “blue crab cakes,” throwing in some horns and flamenco guitar for good measure and tying the album up nicely with a reflective bow. Simply put, Benji is an album for fans of songwriting and storytelling, the mastery of which makes it unmissable.


Tinariwen - Emmaar (CD or LP)

Northern Mali band Tinariwen’s seventh album comes across as both a passionate love letter to the band’s homeland and call for attention to the troubles it faces. Recorded in Joshua Tree, Calif., Emmaar effuses gorgeous Saharan guitars, intoxicating rhythms and lively vocals. “Chaghaybou” curls its guitar lines on a singular, syncopated groove, while spirited chanting keeps the whole thing floating ecstatically. You don’t have to understand the Tamashek language to feel the passion behind the vocals on the “Arhegh Danagh (I Call On Man).” Mostly, Tinariwen’s striking music speaks for them, whether it’s the polyrhythms of “Timadrit in Sahara” or the stunning guitarwork “Emajer,” which recreates the feeling of waking up on a gorgeous day. Though Emmaar is a great album on its own, hopefully the success of Tinariwen helps to bring attention to the struggles currently afflicting northern Mali, beset by fighting between rebel groups and a shakey government. Thus, the stunning Emmaar feels all the more vital.


snowbird - moon (CD or LP)

The bad news is there's still no Cocteau Twins reunion. The good news is its members continue to be active, and Simon Raymonde's latest project can almost be read as a love letter to his former band. Together with American singer Stephanie Dosen, who bears a striking vocal resemblance to CT's Elizabeth Fraser, and with contributions from a few Radiohead members and others, snowbird create a winter wonderland of swirling, breathy vocals, and light piano and effects guitar effects that land like snowflakes. Makes us jealous of you East Coast polar vortex peeps for just a sec.

See all of this week's new releases here.

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Snowbird (1), Tinariwen (8), Sun Kil Moon (11), New Releases (214), New Albums (213), Album Picks (146)