Sun Kil Moon

Ghosts of the Great Highway

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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek

Sun Kil Moon is a new band project fronted by Mark Kozelek of the Red House Painters. Given the composition of Ghosts of the Great Highway, it's difficult to see how it will all turn out in the end, given that Kozelek takes on the roles of singer, songwriter, guitarist and who knows what else, while the band sports two drummers in Anthony Koutsos (also formerly of RHP), and Tim Mooney (from American Music Club and the Toiling Midgets), as well as bassist Geoff Stanfield, who came from the ruins of Black Lab. There's a string trio present on the album, as well as some minimal use of keyboards, but the propulsive sounds here are guitars, drums, and Kozelek's haunted, Neil Young-inflected voice. Fans of RHP's later work, such as Songs for a Blue Guitar, may be prepared for the material here -- but then again, maybe not. There is a decidedly languid pace here that is not as mopey as RHP, and the melodies are more pronounced and out front, purposefully intertwining with the layers of guitars and strings. Lyrically, Kozelek is as obsessed with memory and the romance of it as ever. In "Glenn Tipton," the opening track, Kozelek compares the blows received by Sonny Liston and Cassius Clay to the debated preference by fans for one Judas Priest guitarist (K.K. Downing) over another (Glenn Tipton), and Jim Nabors over Bobby Vinton, and contrasts them with his own memories of his father watching late-night movies on TV, as he observes himself doing the same thing, and finally, with the death of a friend who owned a donut shop. An acoustic guitar is the sole accompaniment that this tune full of non sequiturs needs through its verses, before a 12-string, organic percussion and bass enter the middle. The lyrics may not add up, but they evoke the notion of nostalgia, the ache of time's passage, and the dreams of what might have been. "Carry Me Ohio," with its slowly rung electric guitars, dual tap kits, and stripped-to-the-bone bassline, is a lexicon. Side by side narratives of broken lovers and Kozelek's boyhood years in Ohio turn in on one another, and into the shimmering drift guitars and a limpid pulse. There are two versions of "Salvador Sanchez": one is straight from the Crazy Horse riff book. Kozelek tells a heroic and heartbreaking story of the champion featherweight boxer, the "magic matador," who died at the age of 23 in an auto accident. The guitar solos open and wind, and the drums usher in the great textured feedback in the bridge. "Duk Koo Kim" appeared in a different version from Cameron Crowe's Vinyl Records label earlier this year. Here it's over 14 minutes long; it's a swirling, kaleidoscopic, instrumental with strings, xylophones, guitars, and drums everywhere. It's a dream cycle that has its roots in the most brilliant and dynamic psychedelia, and charts a panoramic vista of lush textures and towering sonic waves. "Si Paloma," with its acoustic guitars piled on top of one another, and mandolins thrown in for good measure, is its mirror image, all bright, sprightly, and shiny, like a full-on mariachi band playing Big Star. The disc closes with another bout of mirror logic in "Pancho Villa." The cut is simply a gorgeous acoustic read of "Salvador Sanchez," given the different arrangement and the placement of Kozelek's voice in the mix -- not to mention his changing accents in the lyrics; it's a different song, hunted and haunted by its predecessor, sending the record off in a mist of myths and legends, where memory is as present as the moment one lives in, and as distant as whatever it took to get there. The bottom line here is that Kozelek's aesthetic with Sun Kil Moon may not be radically different than his RHP project, but it is moving, graceful, and consciously beautiful.

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