In 2014 Sun Kil Moon hit their stride with a record many instantly deemed a classic: Benji, in which frontman Mark Kozelek put up front a lifetime of experience and poignant stories of those lost across his life, with a density of language that bordered on spoken word, and a frankness rarely seen in any medium. On Universal Themes he retreats from this boldness, his stories no longer upfront but introverted somehow – and yet the album is twice as ambitious because of it.
Novelist David Foster Wallace was obsessed with the idea of boredom, and the need for distraction. His final novel, The Pale King, was set in an IRS Station and was about exactly that. He was also an essayist and one of his more famous explorations of the topic is titled “This is Water”. It begins with this story:
“There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?””
Wallace’s point is this: the un-thought of, tedious realities of life are often the most telling and important, and that to understand this necessitates an awareness of, and attentiveness to, dull truths that are all around us, yet often go unmentioned. On the amazing Benji, Mark Kozelek stunned with remarkable tales which drew to attention the million coincidences and dark ironies that surrounded their death of their protagonists. Universal Themes strives for a similar poignancy, but does it by telling tales of nothing. (more…)