Sun Kil Moon
Ghosts of the Great Highway


5.0
classic

Review

by J. Ponton EMERITUS
July 19th, 2010 | 59 replies | 10,520 views


Release Date: 2003 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Ghosts meets me halfway

I’ll do the best that I can to leave the hyperbolic Mark Kozelek-isms out of this review, but inevitably a few irrational, aye, impossible descriptions of Kozelek’s god-like aesthetic may find their way into this undeserving one-off for his 2003 Ghosts of the Great Highway. You see, removing every last trace of evidence for my unhealthy affection for this man would turn this love letter into a farce, pretentiously misrepresenting my already-overly pretentious feelings for this baby-faced Sun Kil Moon debut. I think we’d agree that I should just give you the rundown with a shaky, unconfident attempt at a clear mind, at least detaching myself as much as possible from this nostalgic black hole linking into the world of my past – a realm that Ghosts has lulled me into over and over again, cradling me in its arms, all the while dangling me over a cliff above the snatching claws of my sorrowful regrets and memories: Ghosts hurts me, but God I enjoy each and every mutilation it brings upon my person.

If only for how Ghosts goes about killing me, though – slowly and gently, ever so slowly and gently. Prodding, slow-burning progressions have always been Kozelek’s first choice when it has come to his song direction over the years, prior and since Sun Kil Moon’s debut. The arrival of his new project’s moniker in 2002 brought a more streamlined sound when compared to that of the 90s-dominant Red House Painters. Essentially, it’s like he took those seven-minute-plus compositions built over his prior band’s acoustic and electric guitars, gave them a face - for God’s sake, an identity! - and caressed them in his warm, now-aged vocal delivery, largely removed from the innocence that characterized his prior projects. Kozelek’s craft was complete at this point in time, or at least his formula was, and then came the source of inspiration for his new project with which he would craft and make what is arguably the songwriter’s finest collection of songs in his remarkable career: Boxers.

That’s right. Boxers. Yes, I know – it’s not the ideal subject for a nostalgic, longing album, much less something we’d imagine to come from Kozelek’s lyrical palette; but hey, the concept works. In fact, it probably works better than a more straightforward approach to reminiscing, love, and heartache would have: there’s a layer of mystery to be found here. Ghosts’ songs are not structured in such a way as to confine Kozelek’s topic to the ring contestants, but rather the topics of love, regret, and even murder are fit around well-placed references to such contenders as Glenn Tipton, Duk-Koo Kim, and Salvador Sánchez Narváez. We’re given stories that play out like entries from Kozelek’s own diary, when it comes down to it, except in them the songwriter often takes on the guise of one of the legendary fighters. Oddly, this adds a new strange sort of relationship dynamic between songwriter and listener: You’ll want to get to know the boxers in order to get to know Kozelek; in essence, you’ll find yourself relating to the references and stories because the songwriter first did so before you.

So much was his attachment to these subjects, that Kozelek’s emotion is more felt and stronger in its concentration on Ghosts than it was on even his classic Red House Pianter's 1993 Rollercoaster or 2008’s later Sun Kil Moon offering, April. Look no further than the more straightforward “Carry Me Ohio” for the break-up song of the decade, an aching venture into changing times, insecure feelings, and losing those that matter the most to you because of depression: “Sorry that I never loved you back / I couldn’t care enough in these last days”. In the two-part plea for acceptance of “Last Tide” and “Floating”, obscured by unease and fear, Kozelek reaches for another over his shivering acoustics and light strings of orchestration without confidence, if perhaps all but begging by the time “Floating” closes off into the poppy, more light-weight feel of “Gentle Moon”. It’s an odd point of reference, but the fact that Kozelek so often comes out as the loser, or at least his avatars do anyway, makes him that much more relatable as a songwriter, and of course adds that sense of painful tragedy and realism to Ghosts. Kozelek isn’t Superman, thankfully, and every negative thing that befalls him is a situation that you and I could find ourselves in – well, in many cases, actually already have.

Ghosts, ironically, plays out like a phantom through my speakers, bringing to mind, painfully or happily, memories of my past through the tailings of boxers and Kozelek’s own personal woes as a flawed human being. It’s a remarkable feeling, in that it really shouldn’t feel this personal, and on some days I even forget how much listening to this album impacts me. But once the chorus of “Duk Koo Kim” embraces me in its tendrils at its five-minute, thirty-second mark, “sing to me once more my love / songs that I love to hear,” I remember. I remember Ghosts’ power as an album, and I remember those painful memories and regrets that originally got me to the place where I could fully appreciate the album’s impact on me each time that I listen. Once the song enters its climax of sliding acoustic arpeggios nine minutes in, I feel like I’ve played out every single girl, death, or poor choice that I’ve ever made in my mind over the past hour. It can be a painful experience, certainly, but the beauty that evokes such a response in me from Ghosts is something that I return to again and again. Ghosts is an album that meets me halfway on the highway of life, travel backwards with me through my past, yet at the same time moves forward with me with each listen as well.



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user ratings (303)
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Tyler Fisher EMERITUS (5)
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Comments:Add a Comment 
Ponton
Emeritus
July 19th 2010



5790 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Just a fav ive wanted to do for a while

if you enjoy any of the recs, at least for the feeling each one gives, this is definitely worth checking out. Give it time to settle with you if you do though

Lucid
Contributing Reviewer
July 19th 2010



7023 Comments


Beautiful review, really enjoyed reading it. "Carry Me Ohio" is stunning.

Digging: FKA twigs - LP1

Romulus
July 19th 2010



8423 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Fantastic review, I started listening to this a couple weeks ago (per your recommendation) and it sounds great, but I have to give some more time before I settle on a rating. It's definitely on par with the best RHP material.

Edit: Also if you see this before you post make sure you do something really cool with your 3000th comment

DoubtGin
July 19th 2010



6749 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

brilliant review, pos'd


"Carry Me Ohio" is one of the best songs from this decade

Ponton
Emeritus
July 19th 2010



5790 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks guys, yeah Carry Me is fantastic, though I think Duk Koo Kim is my fav

Give it as much time as it needs rom. I first heard it in 2008, settled at a disappointed 3, but by the spring of this year it was a 5

Lucid
Contributing Reviewer
July 19th 2010



7023 Comments


It has always been a solid 4 for me.

lobby
July 19th 2010



1251 Comments


Also if you see this before you post make sure you do something really cool with your 3000th comment


^ anticlimax

Mordecai.
July 19th 2010



8277 Comments


TRANSFOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORM!

thebhoy
Emeritus
July 19th 2010



4459 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Si, Paloma and Pancho Villa make up one of my most favourite closing sequences ever.

DBlitz
July 19th 2010



1690 Comments


album is v. good

Yotimi
July 19th 2010



6466 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I thought I listened to all the albums I meant to before making my decade list and completely forgot about this one. Will be getting soon.

Digging: Millie and Andrea - Drop The Vowels

AggravatedYeti
July 19th 2010



7684 Comments


never been a huge fan of this album
but I am of this review.

Ponton
Emeritus
July 19th 2010



5790 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

ahhh,

thanks though, I still think you're cool and all (I guess)

AggravatedYeti
July 19th 2010



7684 Comments


(I guess) I could give it another spin
it's been a few years, and well ---> Jared5.

not to mention yours and my initial reaction seem to be the same. disappointed 3.
I can ttrryyy!!

Ponton
Emeritus
July 19th 2010



5790 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

that's all i ask, though it may not be your thing i guess

yetis usually don't like kozelek in general anyway :/

AggravatedYeti
July 19th 2010



7684 Comments


we do tend to be a bit high-brow at times.
I blame the icy tundra and unforgiving Himalayas

Gyromania
July 19th 2010



15493 Comments


Fantastic, excellent work here Jared, this album does amazing things to me.

Ponton
Emeritus
July 20th 2010



5790 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Cheers, and nice to see you upped your rating for this too

TheSpirit
July 20th 2010



17720 Comments


would i like this

Digging: Venus Star - Nigredo Expulsion

Ponton
Emeritus
July 20th 2010



5790 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I don't think so, to be honest, but it wouldn't hurt to try



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