Decade :: Sun Kil Moon, Ghosts of the Great Highway

decade aquarium drunkard

What is it that makes us want to deconstruct art by units of time? Lists. We love making them. We love arguing over them. And here, on the verge of a new decade, we’re in a position to do the same again. What were the best albums of the past ten years?

Here at AD, we started talking it through and decided we weren’t going to add to the cacophony of lists being put out by various music pubs. There are enough of those. Rather, we elected to let our four main writers have a chance to write about any and all of the albums they felt shaped the last decade.

From the beginning of October through the end of December, Monday through Thursday, AD will feature a post, or posts, from a particular writer detailing their favorite albums of the decade. On a given week there might be one album a writer talks about, there might be six, but they’ll get a chance to have their say on everything that comes to mind.     Our hope for you, the reader, is that you’ll jump in with your comments on the album selections — tell us why you agree or disagree — and also be exposed to some albums that you may have missed over the last ten years. Now, as the decade starts to wind down, let’s celebrate.

sun kil moonWhether recording and releasing output under his own name, Red House Painters or Sun Kil Moon, Mark Kozelek’s muse has long been one of loneliness, introspection and a that of a dozen heartbreaks. Ghosts of the Great Highway is without a doubt his quiet masterstroke.

Following the dissolution of Red House Painters, Kozelek retreated into the world of reinterpreting other artists work; artists as disparate as AC/DC and John Denver. Transfiguring each tune like an alchemist, often stripping the material to its bare, acoustic essence, it was with these two projects under his own name that Kozelek’s talent for arrangement and interpretation truly came into its own. When he resurfaced in 2003, with his first collection of original material since RHP, it was under the moniker of Sun Kil Moon — the album was Ghosts of the Great Highway.

Like its album cover, Ghosts is an album that speaks and moves in sepia. Nothing within its 58 minute frame feels necessarily new, but instead exists on a plane of faded memory. Bittersweet, wistful and romantic, Ghosts hits on multiple levels — at once approximating the feeling of happening upon a strangers open journal, while simultaneously tapping into one’s own personal history. Depending on what you happen to be shouldering at the moment, the effect can be jarring. And that is part of Kozelek’s magic — that he is able to go beyond the words, the phrasings and arrangements and truly imbue an atmosphere into the music, into the listener.

A storyteller as comfortable with an acoustic guitar as he he is riding a five minute wave of feedback, Kozelek’s path increasingly reminds me of that of a mid-period Neil Young; not so much stylistically, but aesthetically. The signal, the message, for the most part stays the same no matter the tools in hand.

Ghosts is also home to one of Kozelek’s greatest songwriting achievements–“Carry Me Ohio.” If asked to describe the artist’s work in one song, this would be it.

Related: Off The Record :: Sun Kil Moon (San Francisco, CA)

MP3: Sun Kil Moon :: Carry Me Ohio

15 thoughts on “Decade :: Sun Kil Moon, Ghosts of the Great Highway

  1. A near perfect album. That word “Highway” in the title is apropos. Kozelek created an entire sonic ecology that stretches and unfolds like an empty road through wild land. Perhaps “album” is even the wrong word here. I’d suggest “soundtrack.”

  2. I’m not too familiar with Ghosts of the Great Highway, but the other album he did in this vein (Tiny Cities, featuring reinterpretations of Modest Mouse songs) was fantastic. I really need to check this out at some point.

  3. I’ve had April and Songs for a Blue Guitar for quite some time, and enjoyed them immensely. After hearing this, I definitely need to delve a little deeper into all things Mark Kozelek.

  4. Equal parts Nick Drake and Neil Young. I always felt Mark Kozelek and Jason Molina were akin somehow, maybe not by blood but on some other plane. It’s no wonder I can’t stop listening to RHP, SKM, S: O and MEC.

  5. I happened upon this album by mistake almost, really. Much like your journal analogy above. Never heard RHP before either. This album remains of my favorites of the last ten years. For those of you above who haven’t heard it yet, get it ASAP. I’ve gotten all the SKM work Kozelek has done since and as good as it is nothing touches Highway.

  6. The difficulty in Ghosts lies not its initial accessibility but in being able to get away from its haunting themes and melodies even after you move on to the next cd. More often than not I find myself being dissatisfied and simply going back & relistening to Ghosts. The fact that songs as sonically diverse yet cohesive as Carry Me Ohio, Salvador Sanchez, Gentle Moon & Duk Koo Kim can be on the same cd is amazing. I’m not sure if I can annoint Ghosts as THE album of the decade, but its damn sure in the discussion.

  7. I really like Ghosts, but I’d forgotten how much I love Blue Guitar. Also, I never knew the name Sun Kil Moon was based on a Korean boxer’s name – thanks Google!

  8. Made my day to see a record I love so much featured here. Nice to know others feel the same way – Peter, loved your “sonic ecology” description. And linear element to your description; I always felt that the impact of the record comes in part from a really strong thread strung throughout all of the songs.

  9. One of my absolute favorite albums! It’s been in my regular rotation since I first heard it – sometime in ’03 or ’04. I never grow tired of it. Perfect soundtrack for a rainy afternoon. And not only does the band’s name come from a boxer’s name, but many of the songs on Ghosts tell the stories of boxers with untimely and tragic deaths. (Thank you Internets!)

  10. One of the only albums that I play the whole way through at least a couple of times a week, consistently since it came out. A rarity for me.

  11. I hadn’t listened to this in a while until seeing this post reminded me to take it off the shelf and put it on again. Man, I still love this music. It’s especially great in autumn and in the upcoming months of winter too… Now is a perfect time to appreciate this record’s classic beauty.

  12. This is in response to the post about albums that shaped the decade but not in a list form and the posting schedule.

    by having a decade as a parameter, it is a list. a list of one group (a decade) by name (in place of number) of author.

    this may be the dumbest comment I have ever left. wow.

    I think you guys have a cool life

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