Sun Kil Moon: Ghosts of the Great Highway

Some songs won't leave you alone. Sun Kil Moon's "Carry Me Ohio" is persistent like that. Mark Kozelek lets fly his high-moaned, minor-keyed regrets, singing, "Sorry, I could never love you back," and for more than six minutes, the music slowly pierces your chest like a friend with a pin removing a sliver from your finger. Prodding around inside you, it finds the sentimental, irritable, I'm-broke-and-it's-Valentine's-Day blahs inside your soul. Then it pulls out the pain with a pretty soundtrack.

Kozelek's vocals do all the gentle digging, something fans of the former Red House Painters frontman have known for years. He's always had the haunting quality of a Will Oldham or a Nick Drake working for him. And in Sun Kil Moon, he also has Black Lab bassist Geoff Stanfield and, on some tracks, American Music Club drummer Tim Mooney (others feature Red House Painters drummer Anthony Koutsos). Make no mistake, though: This is singer-songwriter land, where the rhythm section never takes the lead. The snare on "Floating" is only there to anchor the acoustic guitar's ennui and Kozelek's Neil Young falsetto.

Indie gloom-folk? That sounds about right. But there's also something blurred about Ghosts of a Great Highway. The music could be arpeggio acoustic or fuzzy electric, but over time, the tracks all run into one another. The rhythm of "Last Tide" is almost the same as "Floating," so that the two almost combine into one long song. Only Kozelek's ambitious vocal lines punctuate the tunes, though he should work on his diction: I thought he was saying "Carry around my halo," until I read "Carry Me Ohio" on the album cover. "Lily and Parrots" may be the perkiest single, with grungy guitars reaching, in their own quiet way, for the Seattle sound, but it still leaves the overall vibe smooth. This is the kind of music you could listen to on gray Sunday mornings when the hangover gives way to doing the laundry. It motivates you toward tomorrow, when it's Monday all over again.

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