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
, 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
. 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.
, 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.