A lot of records have a certain seasonal feel and I tend to enjoy records that feel like winter. Summer music is fun, but you don't pore over summer music the way you do winter music. Summer music is for dancing and playing at BBQs. Winter music is the kind of music that makes you feel warm when its cold, that you listen to by a fire (me nor anyone I know makes fires, but you get the point), that you spend time with. It's substantial music.
Mark Kozelek's first record as Sun Kil Moon, Ghosts of the Great Highway, is the perfect winter record. Just put it on and let it suck you in. It's a timeless record that feels downright vintage at times but without ever feeling old fashioned. It's the whole rip it up and start again mentality. It's folk music certainly (the Neil Young comparisons are warranted) but it's oftentimes sifted through shoegaze and psychedelia to create a style of music all its own.
The songs on Ghosts of the Great Highway are meticulously crafted and unhurried. Virtually all of them exceed the five minute mark, but the joy in the record is that none of these songs get boring. In fact, I find myself wishing they were longer. The centerpiece of this whole thing is the nearly fifteen minute epic "Duk Koo Kim", a song that manages to over the course of its running time surprise and inspire. It's the type of song wherein you'd expect a lull, but it never comes. It's a gorgeous song filled to the brim with different instruments and movements all building to what is one of the loveliest crescendos in rock music this decade.
Mark Kozelek has always been a great interpreter of music and with the Red House Painters (and later with Sun Kil Moon) he would do a great justice to a number of artists. On Ghosts of the Great Highway, Kozelek interestingly and with great success covers himself. The tracks "Salvador Sanchez" and "Pancho Villa" are two wildly different approaches to the same song. The former is awash in electric guitar squall while the former is a straight up acoustic number. Both songs are amazing and a testament to this artist's abilities not only as a songwriter, but as a master arranger.
Listening to Ghosts of the Great Highway is an absolute pleasure. It feels like America at its greatest - Open roads, dusty backyards, porch swings, seeing your own breath in the cold. I love these kinds of records because I love those small, intimate details and I love artists who can make you see them without specifically saying it.
Listening, as I did a lot last year, to the Fleet Foxes record only made me appreciate Ghosts of the Great Highway more. The Fleet Foxes record will not appear on this list, though I think its an admirable achievement and a record I like very much. It's pretty to listen to and the harmonies are impeccable, but it always just made me want to listen to Ghosts of the Great Highway. I just feel Ghosts more. It's in my heart in a way, as silly as that may sound. It's an impactful, gorgeous record that always struck me as very sincere and I think that's why I still listen to it and why I continue to love it more and more each passing year.