This Is My Dinner
Sun Kil Moon operates quietly, releasing an album a year for the past four years and randomly showing up on collaborations with other artists (see Sun Kil Moon’s feature on Donny McCaslin’s “The Opener”). 2014’s Benji was a surprise hit, turning millennials onto the despondent music of Mark Kozelek who originally resonated with a gloomy Gen X back in the early ‘90s when he was the frontman for Red House Painters.
This Is My Dinner probably won’t be a big hit with those who only know Benji or RHP. Most of the songs are at or exceed the 10-minute mark and the instrumental work on the album is more jazzy/soulful than folk-oriented. The same lyrical style from Benji is present, but the lyrics are much more self-aware and humorous.
This Is My Dinner is a concept album tracking the band on their 2017 tour. In Sun Kil Moon fashion, the lyrics tend to stray into a pretty bizarre territory, making the album equally about the thoughts felt during the tour as much as the tour itself. There are recurring themes and elements that run throughout the album, the most obvious being each song including a mention of what seat Kozelek’s in on his flight.
Opener “This Is Not Possible” is hilarious. It has the instrumentation you’d expect from a ‘70s soul album, like an Isaac Hayes dirge. It was written when Kozelek was on tour in Germany. Kozelek was asking for rehearsal time to prepare for a show and the promoter kept replying “This is not possible”. The instrumentation in the song comes to a dead halt for the chorus, which is members of the band saying either “This is not possible” or “Yes this is possible” to Kozelek’s questions.
It’s a fun call-and-response gimmick that will either entertain or annoy you. Fans of Kozelek will be amused by the song, but casual listeners will likely dismiss it as stupid. Classic Kozelek lines in this song include “And after I ate my falafel my stomach felt awful” and “Is it possible that the band Berlin wrote a song called ‘Sex’ that gave me a raging boner at 15?” (Answered by the chorus: “Yes this is possible”).
“This Is My Dinner” is another song that deals with life on the road, specifically Norway. Kozelek loves Norway because the country is organized, the movie Trolls was filmed there, and they do Christmas right, among many other things. The bright piano on this track emphasizes Kozelek’s enthusiasm in the midst of Norway’s coldness towards him.
“Linda Blair” is a strange song that must be heard to be believed. Musically it’s more space rock than jazz. There’s three sections in the song: An energetic first section with glimmering guitars and piano, a heavenly second section, and a hellish third section. Lyrically, it’s more abstract than the preceding songs. There’s less of a “wink” to the humor in this song, making it feel more deranged than ironic. For example, Kozelek mimics a girl on a flight whose cough resembled Linda Blair’s in The Exorcist. Kozelek then recreates the coughing noise. Then, us listeners are told to show our local sports heroes love and support. Towards the end of the song, Kozelek lists some songs he loves (He refers to ZZ Top’s “Tush” as “Ain’t Asking for Much”). This song is a highlight.
“Copenhagen” is magnificent. The song starts with an anxious mood to it. Kozelek’s thoughts are racing in the first verse. He’s sad, he’s dwelling on his inferiority complex that developed from his speech problems as a child, he has an awkward flirtation with a married woman.
The mood calms down a bit in the second verse. We learn a fun fact about Mark Kozelek: Copenhagen is the city where he’s had the most threesomes. He goes on to brag about he used to get large quantities of women on the road, only to undercut that confession with an admittance that he has trouble getting it up at his old age. The third verse is what takes this song into godly territory. There’s a beautiful piano line and gorgeous backing vocals that make the outro to the song blissful. Definitely a favorite off this album and one of the band’s best.
At thirteen minutes and forty seconds, “Candles” is the longest track on the album and doesn’t stand out. In the song, Kozelek calls it incomplete. Why? He was writing the song on his laptop and the stewardess told him to shut it off. He even spells out the conclusion you were meant to draw from the lyrics: Sweden is more organized than the Americans. Well, part of the conclusion. The song seems to be more about Kozelek’s feelings of incompetence around people that appear to have everything together. Musically, it sounds like a Christmas song, with ringing pianos and soft strums from a guitar. Not surprising, considering Sun Kil Moon has a Christmas album.
“David Cassidy” starts a three-song streak that is an identifiable low point for the album. The first song is about the titular singer who did songs for TV show The Partridge Family. It’s more of a countrified tune, a love letter to Kozelek’s childhood heroes who got him into music, AC/DC in particular. Kozelek is really into David Cassidy, urging you to buy his autobiography. Kozelek even makes the listener sit through following song “Come on Get Happy”, a cover of the theme song for The Partridge Family.
After that, the band launches into a cover of AC/DC’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Singer”, something Kozelek promised to do in “David Cassidy”. Sun Kil Moon has always been hit-or-miss with covers, mostly miss (See Tiny Cities, their tribute to Modest Mouse). This isn’t that exciting of a cover. There are some noisy riffs in tribute to Malcolm Young. Kozelek’s overextended “ROLL” yell is weird and not in a good way.
“Soap for Joyful Hands” brings us back to the good stuff, which is already weird enough as it is. This is another high point of the album. Kozelek contrasts his tendency towards irritability and melancholy with his appreciation for life and his passion. Naturally, this is the song Kozelek sings with the most passion on the album. He strips the ironic/humorous pretense the album’s been littered by and just lets go. He asks us who else could be able to find poetry in cheap hotel soap the way he does (Jonathan Richman, Kozelek admits). This is a great track and among the band’s best in their catalog.
“Chapter 87 of He” is a decent closer to the album. The lyrics are word-for-word taken from chapter 87 of English comedian Stan Laurel’s biography He. The lyrics and intonations of the vocals give a hint of what Kozelek was feeling when he read the chapter. The steady percussion and soothing bassline devolve into a full-band freak-out when Kozelek sings the word “chaos”. The line “He does not trust in reincarnation alone to reunite him with Babe” is repeated multiple times in the song, as if to indicate that Kozelek saw something profound in that line and had it resonate within him. “He” works as a closing song because it’s a wind-down. It’s the end of the tour and Kozelek wants to relax by reading a book instead of going to soundchecks. Maybe he’ll find inspiration for a song by reading the book.
This Is My Dinner is a fine album with a couple of dud tracks. The album is an hour and a half long, so cutting out the sixth, seventh, and eight tracks would make the album flow better. The album’s highs rank among the band’s best songs yet. If you don’t have the time or patience to sit through the movie-length album, listen to the songs “Copenhagen”, “Linda Blair”, and “Soap for Joyful Hands”. The other tracks are good but don’t particularly stand out. Listen to “This Is Not Possible” too if you want a laugh.
I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who’s not a fan of Kozelek’s works, but fans who thought Kozelek’s self-titled solo record from earlier this year was a let-down will be pleasantly surprised by This Is My Dinner. The minimalist jazz instrumentation and Kozelek’s singing match well. At first glance, the lyrics look little more than unfiltered inner monologues but reveal middle-aged wisdom to those who dig a little deeper. This Is My Dinner is a solid record dragged down by a self-indulgent streak of filler (and that’s saying something considering Sun Kil Moon are often elevated by their self-indulgence) and will make for a great winter soundtrack when the snow starts falling.