Sun Kil Moon


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Despite the change in his band's name from Red House Painters to Sun Kil Moon, songwriter Mark Kozelek has changed very little in the past decade-and-a-half. Sure there was a left turn when he did a rather unorthodox (to say the least) album of covers of Modest Mouse tunes, but he recorded those songs as if they were his own and performed them like that as well. There are forces at work in Kozelek's own songs that follow like a ghost train from one destination to the next. April is no different. Memory is the fossil fuel that drives his creativity unhurriedly along a rather labyrinthine maze to the same place: wherever he is, he wishes he were somewhere else. But it's also the acceptance of that fact that makes these songs what they are. His touch on the guitar varies. In its trademark loping, ever-so-slowly unfolding of a ten-minute narrative like "Lost Verses," it's a blend of acoustic and electric guitars, and he hovers around the same three chords like it's a mantra as his words come from some place caught between the depths and instructional truth revealed over time, and the immediate wince of powerful emotions. It's a tension, but one that is not unbearable or taut. "The Light," evokes Neil Young at his most languid. Layers of distorted, warm-toned, countrified 4/4 time, with a single trance-like snare, hi-hat and bass drum, and four-note bassline to pace the words along their great length. There are other times, though, where Kozelek just lets it rip, as on "Tonight the Sky" that touches on Young's riff from "Ohio," as well as "Like a Hurricane." The volume level varies, the droning drums and bassline walk a line and make so much space for the guitar overdubs that at first, the lyrics are almost superficial -- but anyone who has listened to Kozelek for any period of time knows that this is a mistake. They are clear enough to hear, but feel like an afterthought to that druggy loose vibe coming up from the garaged out instrumental mix. At some point -- and it's different in each tune -- the vocal cracks open with some nearly unbearable truth, so personal, so ultimately gut-wrenching that the listener catches her breath, caught between empathy and embarrassment for the singer. The release that takes place at about the six-minute mark, where the vocals are all but swallowed by the guitars, is liberating for moment, but it also swallows the protagonist whole. Kozelek handles all the guitar chores, and has a wonderfully empathic rhythm section in Geoff Stanfield and Anthony Koustsos. Bonnie "Prince" Billy appears on "Unlit Hallway," while Ben Gibbard and Eric Pollard also guest. And those choruses, those backing vocals that seem to float up to where they can be heard, but just barely? They are among the most glorious elements of the sound -- on this record in particular. Kozelek is simply continuing on his way here, but that said, to stand apart from all the superlatives and just get lost in his creation here, he has made the best record of his career. This is as perfect an entry point, as it is a summation -- no easy feat -- of where he's been thus far; which is to say, he's always back at the guitar, writing and playing from that haunted center and trying to make sense of the weight, the grief, and the love both expressed and received along his lonesome road. Early versions of April also contain a bonus disc with four alternate versions of album tracks.

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