Sun Kil Moon: Third and Seneca EP

Sun Kil Moon closed 2014 with a quiet and unassuming reissue.
Sun Kil Moon
Third and Seneca
Caldo Verde / Vinyl Films

There was nothing small about Sun Kil Moon in 2014. The massive, death-obsessed dirge of Benji rambled on for over an hour and showered Sun Kil Moon mastermind Mark Kozelek with acclaim. The only single by Kozelek released that year was the over-nine-minute-long “The Possum”, and of course there was the beef. With the help of bored music journalists, the notoriously cranky Kozelek turned minor spats into full on feuds that simmered for over half a year. So, maybe it’s the right time to have something more restrained.

Third and Seneca, a re-issue of Sun Kil Moon’s 2010 EP I’ll Be There, only holds four songs, with all but one of them clocking in at under two and a half minutes. These songs were cobbled together from the 2010 sessions that yielded the stark Admiral Fell Promises. Much like its full-length brother, Third and Seneca is a stripped-back affair. For the majority of the recording, it’s just Kozelek’s voice and his trusty nylon stringed guitar, wondering through somber moods and memories. Three of the songs here are covers, nearly unrecognizable from the originals, thanks to Kozelek’s trademark traits invading the DNA of each song. An original does start the EP; a starker version of Admiral Fell Promises highlight “Third and Seneca”. It’s a comely piece, with Kozelek sighing his way through descriptions of different cities in the states he’s visited. He gets in his usual kicks in Puget Sound, as he looks at “skinny girls and pudgy ugly dudes,” but, in combination with his finger picking, Kozelek sets some vivid scenes as he tours. It’s a gorgeous tune, thanks to a brilliant instrumental interlude, but there’s not much that separates it from the original version. That “(Alt. Version)” attached on the end of the song title doesn’t seem to mean much, though the song is slightly lovelier than the original.

The mesmerizing guitar work on “Third and Seneca (Alt. Version)’s” interlude carries over to “Tomorrow Is Already Here”, a Stereolab cover. Thanks to its rubber-band bounce, the guitar playfully propels the song along, a swift reminder that it’s not just Kozelek’s lyrics that have led to his acclaim. It also brings back memories of when Kozelek’s former group Red House Painters covered Simon and Garfunkel’s “I Am a Rock”, thanks to Kozelek harmonizing with himself on the track and the wintery guitar. Kozelek closes the EP by covering the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There”, with fine guitar work, as Kozelek’s fingers skittering around the six-string, but unfortunately the song falls flat. The original “I’ll Be There” stood out thanks to buoyant pop harmonies. Without them, the song never takes flight.

In direct contrast to the unfocused “I’ll Be There” is the devastating “Natural Light”. The guitar work is subdued, but it lets the lyrics take center stage. The original version was by Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, framed as a rambling letter to an ex-girlfriend, after the narrator finds out she’s moved and, as the lyrics put it, “you don’t talk to your old friends.” Old pictures and nicknames are evoked before the bombshell is dropped: “What if we’d had the kid? / I guess he’d be 15.” Casiotone for the Painfully Alone’s version had more spring in its step, but Kozelek makes it fade into a wondrous sorrow. On a song like “Natural Light,” the pain embedded in the notes radiates beautifully. Maybe this reissue is a sign of a calmer year for Sun Kil Moon, with Kozelek content with smaller gains and sounds in 2015.

RATING 6 / 10