It was sometime during college that I first discovered the music of Mark Kozelek. I was browsing through some CDs at a store when I ran across Down Colorful Hill, one of the first Red House Painters releases. For some reason or another, the cover photo struck me so much that I didn't even think of listening to the music before buying it (back when I used to not have a 'to buy' list of more than 100 things). I brought the CD home and played it and it destroyed me. I was hooked on Red House Painters, and I followed them closely after that. Songs For A Blue Guitar would land somewhere in my top 10 favorite albums ever.
Because of these things, I was caught completely off-guard when I heard that Sun Kil Moon was the newest project by Mark Kozelek. Although neither of his solo albums did as much for me as his work under the Red House Painters name, I still consider him to be one of the better male singer/songwriters out there, but I had no idea that he'd recorded a new release under a completely different band name on a different label.
If you're a fan of Red House Painters and Mark Kozelek in general, the music on Sun Kil Moon will feel like a comfortable pair of shoes, or a loose, warm flannel shirt on a cold day. There are a few peaks, not much in the way of valleys, and although it's not the best work by Kozelek, it's still pretty damn good (at this point I think he's almost incapable of writing a bad song). Musically and lyrically, it's definitely less depressing than much of his past work. It's still reflective and thoughtful, as is evident by the wistfull opening track of "Glenn Tipton." "Carry Me Ohio" is similar to past work, moving with warm strums of guitar and velvety vocals by Kozelek (including a touch of falsetto) that make it one of the best tracks on the album.
Lest you think it's all soft guitar tracks, though, Kozelek also brings a bit of the rock on several tracks and it works like a charm. "Salvador Sanchez" is a rumbling, road-trip song of travels and sights and sounds while "Lily And Parrots" is probably the most straightforward rock track that he's ever contributed, chugging along with plenty of juicy, dirty guitars and clocking in a radio-friendly 4 minutes. The epic of the disc (Kozelek just can't go without at least one 10-plus minute track) is "Duk Koo Kim," a nearly 15-minute track that he once again manages to keep sounding interesting (the shimmering guitars about halfway through during a direction change move it to an almost enlightening state).
"Si Paloma" glistens with a beautiful Mexican influence on the guitar playing, while "Last Tide" and "Floating" blur together to close the first third of the disc with what is basically a two-part track that works in slightly different ways. As mentioned above, it's probably not the best overall album that Kozelek has had a hand in, but it's easily better than either of his solo releases and finds him back in comfortable territory, even working better as a whole than his long-delayed Old Ramon release. It's good to have him back again.