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I was hooked on Kozalek’s new musical incarnation from the moment I first heard “Gentle Moon” off the Sun Kil Moon‘s 2003 debut album, Ghosts of the Great Highway.

The track is both comforting and gorgeous in its simplicity. Like all of this group’s original efforts, the simplicity is no gimmick – there is always intention behind the music and “Gentle Moon” has enough of a backbone that it won’t crumble when you lean on it. After all, you have to have a certain amount of bravery and gravity in your speak to put out such lyrics as, “But how can we give back to those/With whom we can’t live/When will the flame break/ And spare the good people it takes,” and trust that that is enough.

Sun Kil Moon was formed in 2002 by singer-songwriter Mark Kozalek, formerly of the indie band Red House Painters. Sun Kil Moon is mainly a solo vehicle for Kozalek, though he does enlist help from Geoff Stanfield (bass), Anthony Koutsos (drums), and former Red House Painers bandmate Tim Mooney (also on drums).

In 2005, the band released a collection of stripped-down Modest Mouse covers for their album, Tiny Cities. While it may have worked on some level, the album has a one-note quality: after a while you’ll yearn for the nuanced currents found in Kozalek’s original material. A minor flaw in an otherwise impressive cannon of work from the band. Sun Kil Moon is definitely at its best when it sticks to original material; Ghosts of the Great HighwayApril, and Admiral Fell Promises (where only Kozalek’s voice and a nylon-string guitar are featured) are all accomplished albums in very different ways.

The thing that separates Sun Kil Moon from the rest of the indie rock band pack is this: Kozalek seems to inherently understand that, in music, everything – from the intensity of vocals, to the arrangements, to the lyrics, and the intention behind it all – must work in concert in order to create the final artistic product. Rather than focus on a single element and hope that it carries the song, with little attention paid to the rest of the ingredients, Kozalek has a firm grasp on the big musical picture.

Kozalek’s arrangements often offer surprising twists and sonic touches. His lyrics are unfussy, almost poetically naked. The poetry comes out in his allowance of the words to be, for lack of a better word, plain. Much like The National (whom I also love), Sun Kil Moon demonstrates that such simplicity and a light-handed touch can carry an incredible amount of weight when it’s done right.

Sun Kil Moon’s music truly soars because of Kozalek’s understanding that it is just as much about the space between the words, as it is about what is being said. He gives his music room to breathe and for moods to be expressed, which results in the creation of songs that wash over the listener and envelope them; rather than sweep them away in flurry of verbal showboating or studio mixing effects. In those ways, I would go so far as to say that Sun Kil Moon’s musical style is comparable to Terrence Malick’s style of filmmaking.

In 2008 Pitchfork included the band’s album, April, in their “Best Albums of the Year: Honorable Mention” feature. Pitchfork writer, Matthew Solarski said “Rather than whisk us away the way plenty of great records do, Mark Kozelek’s second full-length collection of Sun Kil Moon originals casts where you are in a new light.”

Sun Kil Moon is certainly a small victory for the camp of “less is more”. The songs will offer you an invitation into a refreshing uncluttered point of view.  So check this band out (if you haven’t already). Sun Kil Moon has a handful of upcoming live performances scheduled. For info, visit the band’s site here.

Songs not to miss include:  “Gentle Moon,” “Carry Me Ohio,” “Glenn Tipton,” “Heron Blue,” “The Light,” and “The Leaning Tree.”