Review
Sun Kil Moon
Ghosts of the Great Highway

Jet Set (2003) Matt W.

Sun Kil Moon – Ghosts of the Great Highway cover artwork
Sun Kil Moon – Ghosts of the Great Highway — Jet Set, 2003

If this album were being reviewed by a sportswriter the scoffing would begin within it's first 10 seconds. "Cassius Clay was hit more than Sonny Liston"...what the hell is this guy talking about? What is he some kind of sports conpiracist? "You're not duping me, Kozelek!" And even though Mark Kozelek seems to have a mild obession with boxers throughout this album, it's not nearly as biting as any of Morrissey's boxing obessions. But, lyrically, his way of getting a point across is equally awe-inspiring and the album is as decidedly American as Morrissey's work is British. Kozelek and a few friends from other projects (Red House Painters and Black Lab) craft songs that are so utterly befitting the album's title that it's uncanny. These are truly songs for the great American roadtrip over the past 50 years. Legends, loves, and times past are the constant themes throughout the record, and Kozelek makes you feel like you were there for each one.

Kozelek and his buds start the album with a, dare I say Lyle Lovett sounding, story about a boxer named Glenn Tipton. The song isn't an overpowering or jolting opener, that's not to expected from this crowd anyhow. Instead the song moves along with simple strumming that lulls you into a tiny jangled filled outro before stretching you out for the next song. By the time you get past the first two songs you're knee deep in what seems to be an album that is going to stay mellow. This is where things change, for the moment and for the better, into a fuzzy sounding late 60's rock song. Rolling guitars with a slow drum beat behind as he starts into a song about what else? A boxer. The lyrics are so mesmerizing in this song that they're again dug up for the album's closing track. The ideas brought forth in the record are shown distinctly in this song, even if the backing music isn't as loud. He manages to fully flesh out an album lyrically and musically. Something that Jason Molina's work, who Kozelek does sound like vocally sometimes, might sound like if he didn't have such a propensity for sparse and scarce albums.

That being said, it's not like this first Sun Kil Moon effort is overly dense, it just has a lush and full feel that seems to be missing lately from this somewhat insular genre. There are actual surprises within the album instead of lulls. Spanish guitars are in full throw for the last two songs, Kozelek reaches higher into the register than ever before in the 14 minute plus "Duk Koo Kim", and the record is a genuinely interesting listen time and time again.

That's not to say that it may not be a difficult listen if you're not up for or just plain don't like his prior work with the Red House Painters. There are three songs in the middle of the album t hat may take on too much of an adult contemporary type of feel before the album breaks back out into another loud phase. The songs are not faults for the album itself, though they essentially sound like songs that may have been left of "Old Ramon." Strings are brought into the mix and the album and they sound inherently mellow, but keeping in standing with his prior works...the lyrics make the songs come off with some kind of brooding esteem and are a perfect setup for the album's surreal finish. So yea, you might feel like you've been there for a few of these songs on prior efforts, that doesn't do the record much justice as a standalone work. It's fantastic.

8.5 / 10Matt W. • March 1, 2004

Sun Kil Moon – Ghosts of the Great Highway cover artwork
Sun Kil Moon – Ghosts of the Great Highway — Jet Set, 2003

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