Universal Themes

Sun Kil Moon - Universal Themes
Critic Score
Based on 24 reviews
2015 Ratings: #487 / 838
User Score
Based on 155 ratings
2015 Ratings: #434
June 2, 2015 / Release Date
LP / Format
Caldo Verde / Label
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Consequence of Sound

It might be one of the most in-the-moment albums ever made, as if Kozelek vomited words about everything that’s gone on his life since Benji right as it was all happening, kicked the ass of a few chords until they fit around the lyrics, called over Steve Shelley to lay down some drums, then cut it all to tape.

A.V. Club

On the whole, Universal Themes lives up to the promise of its vague title. It’s a document that allows you to come away from it with any number of different messages and poignant observations of your own.


Where Benji found its strength in concise, orderly ideas, Universal Themes is willing to get real about the messiness of the human experience, and about the songwriter’s vulnerabilities.

The Skinny

As the name suggests, Universal Themes is an uncommonly vast album but the warped homespun wisdom of Kozelek in full flight ensures his soaring, perambulating muse is never entirely out of reach.

Granted, every song is essentially a man reading his diary over frayed, weather-beaten guitar, but Kozelek spills his guts with immense artistry and opens up about everything.
These really are memoirs that Mark Kozelek is writing nowadays. They unfurl less like songs and more like porchfront reveries, stories to accompany a mint julep and a summer breeze.

Like Benji, Universal Themes is a challenging listen, and some might view it as Kozelek's most indulgent album yet. But his brilliant musicianship and guitar playing combined with his fascinating storytelling skills ensure that his music is as poignant and life-affirming as ever, and the album is yet another success in his remarkable catalog.

Drowned in Sound
This is a remarkable, compelling record that hits the heights of the heavenly poetical but also dredges the deep dark of cruelty and meanness that flashes through us all at times (though through Kozelek more than most it would seem).
It’s hard to applaud the words of a man whose public persona veers towards the childish and sexist, but it’s hard to ignore the words of somebody who’s unashamed to give us his life to make ours one lived in concert with another.
By giving such prolonged and intricate sketches of his life, Mark invites us to likewise gaze at what we would otherwise pass over: to see the profoundness of the mundane.
Pretty Much Amazing

These songs feel more like a series of chapters in an unfinished novel, with plenty to follow. Universal Themes covers so much ground, it can’t help but live up to its name.

Slant Magazine

Kozelek veers between wry, pissed-off, and ruminative expression without ever really settling on any of those. While that means Universal Themes never reaches the same highs as Benji, it does allow the listener to become fully immersed inside Kozelek's head, which is an alternately terrifying and hilarious place to be.


Its pastiche of concepts, themes and ideas seen on Kozelek's previous works mean that Universal Themes isn't a step forward, but rather a sprawling, unedited version of a Sun Kil Moon record.


Universal Themes is dense, unconventional and provocative. Much of it is cathartic too – albeit in a very different way from Kozelek’s previous work.

Time Out London
There’s a lot to like about Mark Kozelek’s latest album as Sun Kil Moon, but there’s also a lot to irritate. If you’re hoping for a repeat of last year’s ‘Benji’ you’re in for a disappointment.
The Guardian
The mumbled splurges of Kozelek’s non-rhyming narrative come so thick and fast that it’s hard to keep up.
The songs are longer, the hooks are fewer, and the "then I did this, then I did that" observations are less profound and less likely to have you reflecting on your own life. It's ultimately a spotty album from a guy who has released a lot of spotty albums.
Tiny Mix Tapes

Even if I don’t give a fuck about Mark Kozelek as much as he doesn’t seem to give a fuck, Universal Themes didn’t change my life. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth its while.

The 405

Universal Themes is really not a bad record. It has interesting moments and one cannot really fault Kozelek for looking to present a different narrative than his previous record. But there is no denying that Benji set a high bar and this record borrows elements from it, but does so with disappointing results.

Under The Radar
Kozelek seems intent on establishing himself as the cantankerous old man of indie folk: admittedly a niche position that's wide open.
The Line of Best Fit
On his older albums, Kozelek gives you the option of laughing with him. Here, he's just laughing at you, because he's clearly better than you, and you are not him.
Universal Themes finds Mark once again displaying his masterful skills as a storyteller however this record does feel a tad unfocused.

Best Track: Littler Rascals
Worst Track: Cry Me a River Williamsburg Sleeve Tattoo Blues
First things first it has to be said this doesn't quite match the brilliance of 'Benji' but this album doesn't have the same intentions.

Kozelek is trying a subtly different approach yet again and the arrangements here are more complex with multiple parts - sure it doesn't always work but the moments when words and music align in perfect synthesis can stop you in your tracks.
Well, I mean this album is much harder to make an emotional connection with than Benji, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm just a fucking sucker for his ramblings... But yeah I can see this album being completely un-listenable for some with good reason.
Fav Tracks: The Possum, With A Sort Of Grace I Walked To The Bathroom And Cry, Cry Me a River Williamsburg Sleeve Tattoo Blues, Garden Of Lavender, Little Rascals
Mark Kozelek returns just a year after the release date of the amazing Benji with a new record that delivers the expected open-minded, poetic lyricism the listeners could expect from him after the nearly biopic album from 2014, but with a relatively different sonority. While in Benji the major power of the compositions in the tracklist consisted in the harsh and raw lyric-work that Kozelek displayed, in Universal Themes we see a songwriter trying to reach out more with his sound incorporating ... read more
fuck you mark kozelek
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Year End Lists

#24/Q Magazine
#33/Consequence of Sound

Track List

  1. The Possum
  2. Birds of Flims
  3. With a Sort of Grace I Walked to the Bathroom to Cry
  4. Garden of Lavender
  5. Cry Me a River Williamsburg Sleeve Tattoo Blues
  6. Ali/Spinks 2
  7. Little Rascals
  8. This Is My First Day and I'm Indian and I Work at a Gas Station
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Added on: February 18, 2015