Posted on June 4th, 2015 (11:00 am) by Travis Boyer

Stream of consciousness often produces disjointed, seemingly unrelated scraps. When executed at its peak, it begins to make sense amidst its rambling, nonsensical exterior. Otherwise, it is no more than seeing what sticks after throwing everything to the wall. That is where Universal Themes lies, in a state of constant disorder that often feels haphazard.

Sun Kil Moon’s follow-up to Benji often loses its place, prattling on about dead critters and then reminiscing about cornbread and coffee all the same. Set aside the fact that there is no clear lyrical consistency to be had, Universal Themes is monotonous via its scatterbrained style. Vocally, Mark Kozelek often trails off into a murmuring mess that drives down the record’s overall tenor. For example, “The Possum” leads with a marathon of earthy acoustics, before being driven into the mud of a weakening vocal that sinks into deepening mire. Unfortunately, this table-setter is a forebearer for what’s to follow. “Birds Of Flims," a bout of ambient folk, follows suit and is middling at best. Besides detailing his daily happenings in matter-of-fact style, nothing jumps out to give this track life beyond the ordinary. It sits there waiting for any significant change in tempo besides the consistent level of weariness. Sadly, the acoustics stay in the same, barely lucid range throughout.

Thankfully, the wordily-titled “With a Sort of Grace I Walked To The Bathroom To Cry” breaks up the blasé pattern with a fierce, frustrated guitar at the onset. The frazzled vocals remain in place, but aren’t quite as bothersome early on. Three minutes into a ten-minute marathon, a delicate, swaying electric riff signals a return to the downtrodden form of old. Reminiscing about road kill becomes the focal point for the sad singer to make his complete return, a fitting metaphor for how lifeless this record often feels.

Still, that's not the only track on the album with renewing properties; a menacing acoustic opening in “Garden of Lavender” springs it to life, which then burns into a soothing number befitting of its namesake. For the most part, it does have a calming effect. However, the nonchalant storytelling style is still a sticking point because the effort does not feel like it is there. Cohesiveness is not always a trait that song lyrics need, but consistently there seems to be no point to the rhetoric. Of what is discernible through the drowsy vocals, not much inspires confidence. Kozelek doesn't care, therefore why should the listener? If the artist is mailing it in, then it might as well be tossed out.

Universal Themes never takes a chance beyond letting the mundane roll. Mopey acoustics and vocals rule the day, but that’s mostly moot compared to how downright bland the record is. Track by track, it is waiting game for an entry that does not induce a yawn or a puzzled expression due to its lack of emotion or the spaced out thinking. Unremarkable through and through, Universal Themes is fit to be forgotten.

Track List:

  1. The Possum
  2. Birds of Flims
  3. With a Sort of Grace I Walked to the Bathroom to Cry
  4. Cry Me a River Williamsburg Sleeve Tattoo Blues
  5. Little Rascals
  6. Garden of Lavender
  7. Ali/Spinks 2
  8. This Is My First Day and I'm Indian and I Work at a Gas Station
Sun Kil Moon: Universal Themes
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

56 / 100
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