Ayo Jegede
reviews editor
September 22, 2004
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Ghosts of the Great Highway Ghosts of the Great Highway
November 4, 2003
Jet Set Records
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Rock Music Reviews
Sun Kil Moon
Ghosts of The Great Highway

i've heard what heaven sounds like. i've heard its susurrous winds and dying wishes; the begrudging resignation to solitude that its denizens express. see, heaven is indeed a marvelous sight with its great arches of humanity and soft ground made of light. the demesne is open but infinitely familiar. but in heaven you'll also find heroes snatched at their physical apogees, men of differing faiths and histories connected by the common failure to live long enough for love. this is the heaven everyone knows but few will articulate. this is the heaven culled from our greatest fears: that our lives will have been for naught; that the ones we loved will be seen no more.

i have a feeling that Mark Kozelek, also of Red House Painters, has seen heaven too. how else could he so directly and precisely create its music? how else could he assemble seemingly discrepant musical sources like Folk and Rock and make them concordant? how else could he weave such an expansive and poignant tapestry of loss and ruination yet still manage to abstain from creating an album of nothing but dirges? if anything, Ghosts of The Great Highway is an ode to the similarity in the human condition nearing the end. Kozelek graciously and smoothly presents us with the tie that binds us all. this is an album about death, but that's not all.

songs like 'Carry Me Ohio,' and 'Glenn Tipton' are formidable reminders of dessicated hope. the former is emotionally akin to much of the material found on Sufjan Stevens's Welcome to Michigan: The Great Lakes State with Kozelek singing, "sorry that/i could never love you back/i could never care enough/in these last days ... riding/back where the highway met dead tracks/ground and now cement and glass/so far away. heal her soul/and carry her my angel/ohio." the latter is indicative of the rest of the album's emotional pattern, using personal tragedies to maintain a potent, almost primeval humanity. 'Salvador Sanchez' masterfully weaves in an electric guitar without detracting from the quiet restraint of the rest by comporting the instrument. yet the guitar still possess as much gravity as it does languidness. the centerpiece of the album, without a doubt, has to be 'Duk Koo Kim.' a 14-minute epic revealing the life and premature death of a boxer, the song is practically visual in nature. the epic shifts in the song are meant to reflect those of the story, enchantingly drawing you in with the first blitheful notes, keeping you for the triste climax--one beautifully punctuated by an ethereal ukulele, then finally releasing you into the soft understanding of a life lost.

yet amid the sadness is a bit of light since, after all, this is an album about heaven. 'Gentle Moon' is hopeful and affectionate while 'Si Paloma' is almost playful in construction. in fact the last track, 'Pancho Villa,' is merely an acoustic version of 'Salvador Sanchez,' showing the hushed ambivalence of such characters and the character of heaven. if i shall be considered gullible for declaring the sound of heaven before i have even arrived, then so be it. Sun Kil Moon's Ghosts of The Great Highway is that sound. the cold glare of the girl's face on the cover reveals something beyond and unfinished while still retaining purity. it's a face that would be found often in the next life. it's the face that you and i will wear.

Release date: November 4, 2003
Label: Jet Set
Rating: 10.0 / 10

[RMR]