Sun Kil Moon, Ghosts of the Great Highway

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

By 2003, Mark Kozelek was at a crossroads. The thick-band atmospherics he'd plied with Red House Painters had eventually curdled into classic rock, the group's oft-delayed Old Ramon trading mood and feel for direct licks and distressingly clean songwriting. So consider Sun Kil Moon a creative rebirth, a halfway stop between Kozelek's twin tendencies. Its opening is deliciously deceptive. Over a plaintive acoustic strum, Kozelek wryly compares the virtues of Glenn Tipton and K. K. Downing, finally kicking his feet up on the coffee table to watch Clark Gable movies. And then suddenly, the song shifts, softly and tenderly a reflection on loss and departure: the ghost of his father haunts the doorframe of his house, an old woman he'd befriended dies suddenly, leaving an aching vacancy in the diner where she worked. He pulls the switch so quickly and masterfully you don't see it coming — which, in a way, is as good a commentary on death as a person could possibly ask for. That Kozelek follows this auspicious opening gambit with nine songs that are just as good is almost a bonus. Everything here is beautiful: the lonesome, folky "Floating," the bright grand arc of "Gentle Moon," the steady twinkle of "Si Paloma." It's mystery music, and that Kozelek can spin such fabulous ciphers in a setting so spare is a wonder in itself.