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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Sun Kil Moon: "April"

There's this trend in music today, that when you have a song that is 7 minutes or longer, it has to be "epic." That is to say that at some point in that 7 minutes, preferably at the end, there needs to be this triumphant climax. The rest of the song either builds up to that point, or maintains the epicness of it all. Apparently, Mark Kozelek has never received a memo on this notion. As Sun Kil Moon, his songs often far surpass the 7-minute mark, but almost always remain strangely restrained - forcing the listener to either embrace his style of music, or reject it for something more "exciting."

His debut album, Ghosts of the Great Highway is still getting regular plays on my iPod to this day! Songs like "Carry Me Ohio" and "Glenn Tipton" are haunting tales, told over mysterious guitars that I don't think I'll ever tire of. Naturally, I was excited when I heard that he would finally be releasing some new original material. It's been almost 5 years since we last heard from Sun Kil Moon (when not covering Modest Mouse, that is), and I am pleased to say that the wait makes everything about April better.

Like its predecessor, April doesn't dwell in the conventions of modern music; even in the indie realm. It slowly meanders through its 11 tracks, taking the listener on warm journey. Kozelek paints the most eloquent pictures with his words - of heartache, love, regret, and hope. On the album opener, "Lost Verses," he croons, "I've risen up from the dead/With the burning leaves of autumn/If only for one last chance/That all of whom have been defeated/To put on my father's wool coat/To smell my mother's fragrances and perfumes/To find my young brothers and sisters/To never leave or let them go." Such an image is vivid enough for most artists to write an entire song about, but for Kozelek it's part of an even greater vision.

As expected, many of the songs on April can seem repetitive. More often than not, Kozelek will take a single guitar riff and stretch it out over the length of the song, adding and removing layers as it moves along. Strangely, this has never really bothered me about his music. His voice, a mid-range whine or croon, has always captivated me and blended perfectly with the music that surrounds it. As such, I've often found myself completely lost in his songs, suddenly realizing that minutes have past while I enjoy them. For example, while listening to "Tonight in Bilbao" for the first time, I completely drifted off (in a good way) until the song's curveball coda at the 7:30 mark. "Mesmerizing" is an understatement, as these songs are just downright beautiful pieces of music.

Taken as a whole, April, can be somewhat draining, perhaps even tedious to some. But if the whole is in fact the sum of it's parts, then this album can only be considered a great achievement for Kozelek. Every song on this album is a beautiful, well-paced work of art. It is definitely not for everyone. April is an album that was made with patience, and performed with patience. Therefore, a bit of patience may be required from an uninitiated listener. But when it finally does hit you, prepare for hours and hours of entrancement and reflection. Great music has the ability to bring out some strange emotions. April has, at once, reminded me of that and made me glad for it.

Key Tracks:
1. "Lost Verses"
2. "Lucky Man"
3. "Unlit Hallway"
4. "Harper Road"
5. "Blue Orchids"

7 out of 10 Stars

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