30 Seconds to the Decline of Planet Earth is an album that remains inconspicuous to me, as even after several listens I have yet to form a solid opinion about the product of Jesu and Sun Kil Moon’s second collaboration. The album is not easily digestible and that’s the whole point of it. Whilst many may be deterred by the density of each song upon first listen, I believe there’s a real art to the lyrical and musical weightiness of the spoken word as it achieves its purpose.
A close friend of mine introduced me to Sun Kil Moon after claiming that his album Benji released in 2013 was one of the most heart-wrenching, emotionally raw albums he’d listened to. The newly released collaborative album does not fall short in delivering a poignant account of Mark Kozelek’s artistic headspace – a place submerged in blue despair and frustration. This does not necessarily apply to all tracks of the album; however, it is almost impossible to listen to Mark without feeling despondent as he pours out his grievances in thought, mildly controversial opinions such as his hatred for Michael Jackson in the track He’s Bad. There is something very applaudable in maintaining the chilling and unnerving atmosphere throughout the album as I feel that the intention was for the listener to experience the same discomfort Mark himself feels under the circumstances depicted in the nine tracks.
The 17-minute track Wheat Bread is an artistic masterpiece that I both love and hate. When I first listened to it, I could not last longer than five-minutes worth of the repetitive ten note riff and monotonous speech as I found it irritating and almost unbearable. The song is essentially Mark telling the listener what happened in March 2016, with him stating the dates of each encounter as if he was reading diary entries. The steady, unvarying tapping of the hi-hat mimics the ticking of a clock to show the plodding movement of time. After giving the track a few listens, I found myself intrigued by the lyrics as Mark talks about how he is treated as a product and is misunderstood by his listeners as everything is centred around his work. However, I simultaneously struggled to stay focused after 10 minutes of the song. To an extent, I feel as though my reaction to the lengthiness and heaviness of the song serves exactly what Mark is trying to make a statement about – the way in which people don’t and cannot seem to listen to what he himself has to say and how they make quick judgements about him. He is undoubtedly frustrated by this as in the last quarter of the song, his tone is more high-pitched and strained, his wavering voice doubled up to signify agitation. My favourite bit is at the very end when the song ends with an abrupt “F*** you” as it comes about like a slap in the face as if to say both wake up and screw you at the same time. I love how this track is challenging and able to draw a reaction out of me, yet this is the very reason I don’t like it as it is rather uncomfortable and disconcerting to listen to.
This Jesu/Sun Kil Moon creation is perhaps one of the most provocative and puzzling albums I’ve listened to in a while. As a listener, you constantly feel like the princess in Princess and the Pea – there is a level of intimacy between you and the song but there is also an edge of discomfort that creates a distance. As experimental as this album seems to be, I ultimately have a lot of admiration for this album as not often are there artists that tell unconventional stories in such an alluring manner. I appreciate that the spoken word/story-telling style may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I would definitely recommend trying it. 30 Seconds to the Decline of Planet Earth is a tough album but it is genuine, a rather rare quality to be found within much of the music released nowadays.