Stand Back For Exciter!
Sun Kil Moon - Ghosts of the Great Highway (Jetset-2003)
Ex-painter of red houses, John Denver fan, AC/DC interpreter, Almost Famous fictionally famous bass player and all-around sackus sadicus Mark Kozelek has stepped up to the plate swinging the prettiest goddamn baseball bat you ever saw at the bloated corpus of latter-day “Porpoise Song” coveters and bleaters silly enough to raise a 6-string in honor of folk-rock troubadours past. He nixes the need for any and all Neil Young grovelers, Elektra recording artists circa 1969-1973 archivists, Gordon Lightfoot apologists, oldweirdamerikalonerfolkpsych annoyances - those crate-digging dingleberrys with their deathchant whine of “no, he’s okaaaay, but have you ever heard Perry Leopold’s “Experiment in Metaphysics”?” - and fusty, fetid beardos both old and new elegantly decaying in woodland settings to the delight of their barn-dwelling goggled hoot owl acolytes aloft in the rafters dreaming of dust turned to digital gold courtesy of their Sony 3D(eye) handicams. I mean anyone can live in the woods and wear long-flowing robes. Natalie Merchant and Pat Methany live in the woods and wear long-flowing robes. Heck, I live in the woods and wear long-flowing robes!
Which is why Kozelek’s Sun Kil Moon album is so refreshing. It’s languid and dreamy, and yet weighted by complete self-assurance (Listening to music that sounds so effortless and beautiful makes you wonder why you spent so much time in beer-soaked basements watching the pots & pans brigade hurl poo-poo at their inner child. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I love the noiseniks and furry freaks and their ramshackle antics. More than most people even. When your brother is a Bunnybrain you learn to love a lot of things. But there comes a time when that Ant Trip Ceremony record just ain’t cutting it and you wanna hear, i dunno, Donovan or something). It’s music that sounds comfortable in its own skin. If I had to compare it to something I would compare it to M.Gira’s recent acoustic work with Angels Of Light, but I won’t because they don’t sound anything alike. What Kozelek and Gira DO share is an innate sense that after all their years of recording they are really good at this stuff! And they are. While Sun Kil Moon steals comfortably from the acoustaroots/singersongwriter/St.Neil albums that everybody steals from, their warm-blooded and expert suburban blues never feels like an empty exercise (see:Beck) or a diversion until something better comes along. What it sounds like is a really great Red House Painters album (duh). But from the opener “Glenn Tipton” - Judas Priest fans might want to scoop up this album for the only song likely to ever mention BOTH guitarists from that band - to the tradfolkish instrumental closer “Pancho Villa”, it’s softer and prettier and flows more organically than the last couple RHP albums. Less Crazy Horse after all these years - although there is some of that on the peppier numbers - and less maudlin too. (Less self-indulgent as well. Even though there are long songs on this album they feel like they have a right to be long. One of the perverse pleasures of an RHP show was scanning the crowd for the looks of horror on the faces of uninitiated friends and lovers dragged there by fans of the band as one endless lovelorn dirge crawled to an end only to be replaced by YET ANOTHER endless lovelorn dirge. And so on. Until there was a lifeless heap of bodies littering the floor.)
12 years ago Mark Kozelek was duking it out with Throwing Muses and Lisa Germano to see who could be the most miserable American act ever signed to the tears ‘n’ fears 4AD label. The lead track on RHP’s debut was all about the impossible task of becoming 24 years old. If Sun Kil Moon is essentially grown-up folk-rock music for ex-miserablists and lacks a certain unhinged recklessness that RHP had at times it’s none the worse for it. (Just as Gira’s AOL records are sometimes as powerful as that hammer he used to hit me with when I was a noise-obsessed teen.) It’s not staid and it’s not resting on anything other than its member’s abilities to play guitar, bass, and drums really well and in a way that may provoke sighs of contentment and a desire to pick up some Poco albums someday. There are worse things that music can do to you.