A few years back, with the effects of aesthetic atrophy settling into my music-consumption habits, I took a increasingly rare gamble, paying full price for Ghosts of the Great Highway, the first record by Sun Kil Moon. I was aware that SKM's leader, Mark Kozelek, was a respected indie musician from his work with Red House Painters, but I'd never heard the music and knew even less about Sun Kil Moon, save for one glowing review I'd read.
Turns out I loved the record, a cerebral, moody collection of hypnotic songs founded on Kozelek's introspective mumble-singing and looping, distorted electric guitar workouts. It reminded me of a less-aggressive, softer version of Crazy Horse. It was the rare new band whose career I'd committed myself to follow. Then, the affair was over almost as quickly as it had begun.
Sun Kil Moon's next record, Tiny Lights, solely comprised a collection of Modest Mouse songs. I tried and tried and tried to get onboard with it. Nothing against Modest Mouse (I'd never actually heard them) but Tiny Lights was a big letdown, containing none of the magic that ran throughout Ghosts of the Great Highway. I soon realized that Kozelek was one of those uncompromising iconoclasts who does exactly what he wants, giving the music world and his fans what he feels they need, not necessarily what they want.
Now, Kozelek's back after a couple of side projects with the third Sun Kil Moon record, and, again, he's making making music strictly on his terms. On Admiral Fell Promises, gone is the electric guitar. It's pretty much just Kozelek and a classical guitar. And, unfortunately, to me, it's another disappointment. At an hour long, it turns out to be a chore to listen to and, frankly, is kind of a bore.
Where it succeeds is in Kozelek's guitar-playing. Calling him a classical-guitar virtuoso may be stretching it, but his proficiency at the instrument is nothing short of impressive. Unfortunately, the naked recording only exposes his weaknesses, a droning voice with little range and songs that, for the most part, that don't leave much of an impression. Without all the atmospheric, effects-heavy sounds that made Ghosts such an interesting listen, Admiral Fell Promises fell flat for me. Though it's a classy record,
Kozelek's songs just lay there.
Knowing he rarely does the same thing twice, here's hoping for something a little more exciting next time out.
Best song: "Third and Seneca" Rotation: Low Deja vu: In this format, Sun Kil Moon sounds a lot like Jose Gonzalez. I'd rather listen to: At least I'll always have Ghosts of the Great Highway Grade: C-
"Nothing Not New" is a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 41-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here.