Sun Kil Moon April

[Caldo Verde; 2008]

Styles: long-winded alt-folk
Others: Red House Painters, Neil Young, Magnolia Electric Company

Many a late-‘80s baby came to Mark Kozelek the same way I did: on the broad, shuddering wings of “Salvador Sanchez” off Sun Kil Moon’s Ghosts of the Great Highway. It was as close to a “college radio hit” as you could imagine without snickering at the phrase in 2003. Absolutely hooked the first time I heard the song wafting from the monitor speakers of my college station’s broadcast booth -- all Crazy Horse guitars layering huge heartbreak and stately roar beneath the man’s reedy, plaintive paean to fallen heroes -- nothing else on the automated station top-30 playlist was as captivating. Indeed, Kozelek never beat the dismissive “slowcore” slur as effectively as with that album, so often hitched to the name he made through the ‘90s with Red House Painters.

However dubious you may find Sun Kil Moon’s Modest Mouse cover album, Tiny Cities, to be, Kozelek has proved himself a great American songwriter with his original material, and he proves it again on April. That is to say he can write great songs about America without necessarily succumbing to the tropes of Americana, and he does so just as well or better than if he wrote sad songs about himself. And when it comes to sad songs about America (or the Americas, as with “Sanchez”), boy howdy can he hit it out of the ballpark.

This is a relationship record, crafted for the faithful or for the background -- it's vulnerable in its sleepy, sad delicacy to the “dad-rock” epithet so often leveled at latter-day Wilco: lawnmower Muzak. Although the slow-burning electrics on “The Light” and “Tonight the Sky” capture a dusty, late-summer vibe perfect for laying back on the grass as the sun sets over your local outdoor music festival of choice, there are no hooky, easy appealers like “Salvador Sanchez” or “Lily and Parrots.” The intricate guitar interplay on every song is unfailingly precise and beautifully composed, but with such long tracks it's hard to keep your head up and ears open to all the band’s subtle touches. 11 songs in 75 minutes makes for a lugubrious mean runtime, and only one track here clocks in under four.

But Kozelek obviously knows this, and it could be why he boldly slaps the second longest song into the opening slot. With “Lost Verses,” a song roughly 10 gorgeous minutes long and with only one major shift in tone and style, Kozelek seems to be saying that if you can’t groove with him at length, you might not be so interested in an album this wide in scope. So, caveat auditor: this album is deep and often rich, but it definitely wants, even requires, you to pay attention. The smartest move is to take the songs of April like the days of the cruelest month: one at a time, and figure out for yourself which are worth remembering.

Most Read