Though even he has admitted that Sun Kil Moon is mostly a continuation of what he was doing in the Red House Painters, it must be interesting to be Mark Kozelek, who has helmed two underground fave bands on top of doing "solo" stuff under his own name. I'm not sure there's ever going to be a time where the man gets his due, since his work resists easy categorization and by its nature appeals to a small audience. Labels like 'slowcore' and 'sadcore' were often applied to Red House Painters, but Kozelek's work often flits between singer/songwriter acoustic poetics and full bore guitar rock. The most recent album by Sun Kil Moon, April, ostensibly chooses one of these twi styles per song.
I really love April, but Ghosts Of The Great Highway feels like a more major work because it takes more chances. Most of the songs have their own "thing", whether it's the forceful, nearly-arena rock of 'Salvador Sanchez', the way 'Last Tide' neatly segues into 'Floating' on a mellow acoustic guitar wave, or 'Si Paloma', a surprising but welcome Latin tinged instrumental. Anchoring the album is the epic 'Duk Koo Kim', which is up there with Animal Collective's 'Visiting Friends' for the best "long, trance inducing song" of this decade. Any ham fisted, stoned teenager can noodle around for ten minutes or more, but it takes true genius to hold your attention for that amount of time, and I never get restless during this song. Moreover, I think the different version of 'Salvador Sanchez' under the title 'Pancho Villa' is a neat way to end the album, giving it a cyclical feel.
If there's a weakness to Ghosts Of The Great Highway, it's that I don't find Kozelek's lyrics very consistent. Maybe that seems like a stupid statement since I just got done saying how varied the album is, but personally I don't find the boxing references compelling, even if they may be extended metaphors for something or other. I'm not saying the lyrics on Ghosts Of The Great Highway are bad, just that they sometimes seem a bit less personal and poetic than usual. Well, if Charles Bukowski had his horse racing and Hemingway had his bullfighting, I guess Kozelek can have his boxing. Still, 'Gentle Moon' strikes me as a bit cliched (and I say that as someone who's written his fair share of poems about cliched subjects), and 'Lily And Parrots' has the groaner "you are my love/I hold you above/everything and everyone."
Issues with some of the lyrics aside, Ghosts Of The Great Highway is a great album which proved that even after the Red House Painters, Kozelek had more to say and more things to try. Listening to this album and April just makes me wish he'd make another Sun Kil Moon album instead of all the solo acoustic stuff he keeps putting out.