Sun Kil Moon

Ghosts Of The Great Highway (Jetset Records 03) Rating: A

A reboot of sorts for Mark Kozelek after breaking up the seminal "slowcore" band Red House Painters, this first album under the Sun Kil Moon moniker is simply a superb achievement, my pick for "best album of 2003" in fact. Without getting into a Red House Painters vs. Sun Kil Moon debate, or making any comparison at all (Red House Painters deserve their own reviews which hopefully I'll get to one of these days), I'll note that this is the Mark Kozelek album that I listen to the most and the one that's currently nearest and dearest to my heart. Perhaps it's the old heavy metal (one song is called "Glenn Tipton") or boxing ("Salvador Sanchez," "Duk Koo Kim," "Pancho Villa") fan in me, but more likely it's simply that these mournful, melancholic songs, some of which are spare and acoustic-based while others are more fully fleshed out, are completely gorgeous and deeply affecting. There are a couple of exceptions with the terrific Neil Young-inspired epic "Salvador Sanchez" (like all three boxers chronicled tragically killed at the young age of 23) and the loud riff-based "Lily and Parrots" (still good if a bit out of place), but most of these songs ("Si, Paloma" is a more briskly-paced and upbeat instrumental) are slow ballads that are sad and beautiful beyond words. "Carry Me Ohio" and the (too short!) 14-minute "Duk Koo Kim" are obvious standouts on this front, as their music perfectly fits Kozelek's weary, resigned vocal delivery, but all of these songs are standouts. True, Kozelek's not much for variety, but there's something to be said about finding a style you're great at and simply sticking with it, and make no mistake about it, Ghosts Of The Great Highway is a great album that belongs in the pantheon of classic 2000s releases.

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