After a schizophrenic few years spent releasing Red House Painters albums alongside solo albums, Mark Kozelek returns with a new band: Sun Kil Moon. Despite the name change, his deep-rooted ardor for Seventies rockers and vocal similarities to Neil Young remain apparent. No fancy synthesized augmentations weigh down these tracks, which are driven by guitars, be it rumbling electrics or delicate acoustics.
A prominent quality of Kozelek's songs on Ghosts of the Great Highway is their lack of urgency. One extreme example, "Duk Koo Kim," melts between soft acoustic guitars and heavy electric ones he plays with Tim Mooney (formerly of American Music Club) over a period of fourteen minutes. The melody shifts at three key points, like a classic Seventies prog-rock experience, until the song swells as if it were taking the protagonist, a Korean boxer who died as a result of the sport, up to heaven. But unlike a progressive-rock track, the song never hurries to its finale or shifts its time signature, instead riding the slow and steady beat of Anthony Koutsos -- a mainstay since the early Painters demos -- all the way to its conclusion.
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Sun Kil Moon stays true to Kozelek's essence, providing dynamic, lush accompaniment that holds aloft his sleepy voice as he wistfully sings about things as personal as his father and his home state of Ohio or historic figures like Pancho Villa. It's a good pairing. As long as he stays true to the music that inspires him, his releases will come across as heartfelt and visceral, no matter what band he plays with.