Sun Kil Moon

TrackAlbum
Carry Me OhioGhosts Of The Great Highway
Last TideGhosts Of The Great Highway
Lost VersesApril
Tonight The SkyApril
Tonight In BilbaoApril
Half Moon BayAdmiral Fell Promises
Black KiteAmong The Leaves
I Can't Live Without My Mother's LoveBenji
I Watched The Film
The Song Remains The Same
Benji
Father's DayJesu/Sun Kil Moon
ExodusJesu/Sun Kil Moon

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Contributor: David Tanner

In 2002, out of the ashes of the now disbanded/abandoned Red House Painters, Mark Kozelek formed a new band, Sun Kil Moon; the band name being a pun on the Korean boxer Sung-Kil Moon, boxers a constant fascination of Kozelek’s. The band also includes Anthony Koutsos, the drummer from Red House Painters. So why the name change? Kozelek has stated it was purely for commercial reasons, he thought Red House Painters had been tainted by the prolonged wrangling over the release of their final album Old Ramon. You can find the story behind this over at Toppermost #504 Red House Painters.

Here, I’m only dealing with official Sun Kil Moon releases. There have also been many live albums and collaborative albums as solo artist Mark Kozelek, most notably the album wth The Album Leaf (aka Jimmy LaValle), Perils From The Sea.

The first release from the new band was Ghosts Of The Great Highway in 2003. There is no real departure from the Red House Painters of old; a mixture of mainly acoustic ballads with a couple of Neil Young inflected long guitar workouts making this one of the strongest Sun Kil Moon albums, stuffed with great tunes.

Carry Me Ohio is my first choice from Ghosts Of The Great Highway:

Can’t count to
All the lovers I’ve burned through
So why do I still burn for you
I can’t say

Kozelek looking back to his youth in Ohio with regret and longing to a soundtrack of multitracked acoustic and electric guitars.

Then there’s Last Tide which introduces some nice understated strings and segues directly into track 5, Floating.

The album got rave reviews and we all looked expectantly for the next one. It came in 2005 in the shape of Tiny Cities, an album of Modest Mouse covers, which I and many others played once and never again.

So … moving swiftly on to 2008 and the release of April. Probably my favourite Sun Kil Moon record; an album drenched in melancholy and sadness at the death of a close friend.

Lost Verses is the first of three from April:

I feel you oh so near when morning doves appear
And ghosts of April ring, echo the refrain
Soon finding a place
In these lost verses

A beautiful song with marvellous harmonies in the chorus from Ben Gibbard and then, eight minutes in, an electric guitar bursts into life for an elegant solo that fades into the end.

Tonight The Sky is a full-on ten minute Neil Young guitar workout; a scream of rage at a friend taken away so young.

Tonight In Bilbao is a song about being in different places, touring, feeling lost, wanting to be home.

I left Berlin and I came home
To sleeping potions and blue oceans
Where my love so selflessly awaited me

As ever with Kozelek the next album took a left turn and 2010’s Admiral Fell Promises is just him and an acoustic guitar:

“… I really fell in love with this record by Segovia … It was then that I decided, for my next record, that I wanted to play guitar and sing as beautifully as I could. With the classical guitar, the whole range of sounds is covered. Bass and drums would have swamped up the sound of this record. I wanted it to have the feel of those old classical guitar records.”

Half Moon Bay on Admiral Fell Promises has a double tracked Kozelek vocal and pizzicato guitars describing a dark tale of loss.

In 2012, the format was mainly held to – with some session musicians – for Among The Leaves. He was interviewed for Pitchfork in May of that year:

“I’m 45 and I don’t have time to spend two years of my life bringing in producers and dragging the record around the planet. I’m always moving forward creatively and don’t like stalling, trying to find the perfect snare drum sound.”

Among The Leaves began to feature the more personal, stream of consciousness lyrics that have come to dominate his latest albums. There were seventeen songs, one with a eighteen word title. For me, he leaves the best until last with the final track, Black Kite.

Benji followed in 2014. It was full of dark, personal songs based on friends, family and actual historical events – two songs dealt with family deaths via aerosol can explosions – and garnered some of the best reviews of his career. Kozelek was interviewed for Pitchfork again:

“Things get heavier as you get older. At 47, I can’t write from the perspective of a 25-year-old anymore. My life has just changed too much and my environment around me … yes, a few of my relatives died from aerosol can explosions. Strange things happen within families, in small towns.”

My first choice from Benji is the beautiful I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love. Kozelek wrote about the song in the New York Times:

“My mother and I were having some differences of opinion over the phone one night, and after I hung up, I worked things out through a few open-tuned guitar chords here at my San Francisco apartment. As the song was developing, I made a decision to not vent about our argument, but to write about what was truly eating at me: my fear of not having my mother to reach out to anymore. My mom is doing well, but she’s getting older.”

The other standout track for me is I Watched The Film The Song Remains The Same, which uses a memory of watching the Led Zeppelin film as a jumping off point for a rumination on childhood and regrets.

I’ll go to my grave with my melancholy
And my ghost will echo my sentiments for all eternity

I’m going to skip over 2015’s Universal Themes. It was, for me, a poor rehash of Benji. I’ve played it once and never returned.

In 2016, a collaborative album with British electronica band Jesu (actually only Justin Broadrick), Jesu/Sun Kil Moon, was released. With Kozelek leaving all the instruments to Broadrick except for acoustic guitar, a lovely, dare I say, shoegazy gauze features on many tracks. That is only accentuated by the presence of backing vocals from Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell on some songs. It also features Fragile, a paean to Yes bassist, Chris Squire (Yes being favourites of Kozelek’s for years; he covered Long Distance Runaround with the Red House Painters).

However, the first track I’ve chosen is Father’s Day. Pulsing beats and chiming guitars, layered underneath Kozelek’s and Rachel Goswell’s vocals.

Exodus is an elegy to parents surviving their children, beginning with a recollection of meeting Nick Cave and his son once. It features a chorus consisting of Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk (Low) and Rachel Goswell.

What next? Well he’s rumoured to have penned a response to the Orlando killings and he’s also recorded an album of covers, Mark Kozelek Sings Favorites, released in May, which I’ve yet to listen to, but it sounds fascinating.

Mark Kozelek will always be an awkward musician and his well documented spats with journalists and other musicians have been unnecessary diversions. However, he doesn’t like to stand still and has the intelligence to seek collaborators who push and extend his basic stylistic tics. That’s why I’ll always look out for new releases from any of his various manifestations.

 

Sun Kil Moon official website

Mark Kozelek official website

Sad Reminders: an unofficial Mark Kozelek site

Sun Kil Moon biography (iTunes)

David Tanner hails originally from South Wales and spent 40 years working as a librarian – the last 30 in Yorkshire – and is now happily retired in France. There are not many music genres he doesn’t like and he’s never stopped seeking out good music. Always another unknown band around the corner! He writes about music and random culture at Other Formats Are Available.

TopperPost #538

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