by Grant Foskett
“I wrote a captivating song about washing socks in hotel sinks.” With his signature snark humor, Mark Kozelek asks his listeners who else could possibly do just that, and the answer is absolutely no one (except maybe Jonathan Richman). Kozelek stands alone today as the songwriter of a generation, painting pure ekphrastic vignettes of the beauty of daily life. His stream-of-consciousness narrative finds the poetry in the meaningless and the mundane, seemingly freed from “good songwriting” in its traditional sense. When Mark writes, “She showed me a Snickers bar and she said, ‘I’m so fucking broke, this is my dinner,’” he means nothing more than exactly that. There is no metaphor, there is no symbolism, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some innate meaning or beauty. The music of Sun Kil Moon is just a reflection of reality, a conversation grounded in acoustic guitar, but even more than previous releases, This Is My Dinner is a narrative album. It really feels like you’re touring around Europe, standing next to Mark as he apologizes to his bandmates for oversleeping or awkwardly mistakes a married woman’s compliment for flirting. That intimacy is a huge part of what makes this album so fantastic, but really every aspect comes together on This Is My Dinner. It’s unique, entertaining, and all around, a near-perfect record.
Sun Kil Moon has been on a fantastic streak since 2014’s Benji, releasing album after album of the most captivating contemporary folk music there is. This Is My Dinner is not at all a folk album, though. Mark and Co. fall back into Red House Painters era slowcore with a touch of jazz-rock, but always keep the focus on the lyrics. In fact, the instrumentals of This Is My Dinner almost blend into Mark’s voice, fading into the atmosphere until it feels like he’s sitting across the table from you at a bustling coffee shop. Mark isn’t exactly the kind of friendly face that you’d have a pleasant conversation with over a latte, though. He’s the kind of guy who tells you about all the threesomes he used to have in Copenhagen, the time he left a candle burning and almost burnt down his apartment building, or how there’s no washing machines in Spanish hotels. Each anecdote further develops a larger than life but also smaller than reality character of Mark Kozelek. He’s simultaneously “Indie Rock’s answer to Wilt Chamberlain” and a sad, middle-aged man in a perpetual midlife crisis who washes his socks in the sink. Mark is well aware of who he is, though, and his humor makes neither his self-deprecation nor aggrandizement feel dishonest.
That humor is one of the defining characteristics of This Is My Dinner. Mark has always incorporated some laughs between the somber moments of tracks like ‘Chili Lemon Peanuts’ from 2017’s Common As Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood, but never has he embraced it as much as he does here. The opening track, ‘This Is Not Possible,’ has Mark explaining how inhospitable Germany has been in his travels by listing out scenarios to which his bandmates respond “This is not possible” or “Yes, this is possible.” It features such great lines as Mark asking, “Is it possible that my favorite meal is chicken and waffles?” to which his bandmates, of course, respond, “This is not possible.” Linda Blair describes a girl with a cough who sounds like the titular character in The Exorcist by playing zombie sound effects over the instrumental. In ‘Candles,’ Mark simply begs Sweden to stop eating reindeer because they are such sweet animals. Despite all the laughs, there is still much sorrow packed into This Is My Dinner. Mark describes wishing he said goodbye the last time he saw Elliott Smith and bluntly describes his own legacy by saying, “If I die tomorrow, I’ll be blurbs on online magazines for forty-eight hours.“ In general, This Is My Dinner isn’t nearly as devastating as a record like Benji, but it’s lows are deep lows punctuated by Mark’s blunt and brief descriptions.
This Is My Dinner has too many unique and entertaining stories to recount them all now. It truly is remarkable that Mark Kozelek has not yet faltered with Sun Kil Moon, consistently releasing albums that contend to be the best of the year. That is nothing if not a testament to his incredible and idiosyncratic songwriting and natural storytelling ability. This Is My Dinner will not be for everyone, as it’s a long and often slow listen, but for fans of Sun Kil Moon, it’s yet another near perfect addition to Mark Kozelek’s incredible career.