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Ghosts of the Great Highway
Sun Kil Moon
Jet Set

Mark Kozelek, the moody, enigmatic frontman of San Francisco-based outfit Red House Painters, has formed a new band of fellow slow-jammers called Sun Kil Moon. He put the Painters on hiatus a while ago, following his passion to promote personal musical idols whose insights he feels never got a fair shake, namely Bon Scott (of AC/DC) and John Denver. Kozelek's passion for shedding light on unsung heroes is also evident on Ghosts of the Great Highway, where he name-checks — in the first few lines of the album, no less — such incongruent personalities as Bobby Vinton, Jim Nabors, Sonny Liston and two (!) Judas Priest guitarists. Kozelek and fellow bandmates (featuring members of Red House Painters and American Music Club) are masters of the understated, both lyrically and musically.

So it's ironic that, in light of the road-less-traveled subject matter, this is Kozelek's most direct, confrontational album to date. Hints of it were evident on the Painters' Old Ramon, an album that (like Ghosts) puts the vocals front and center. Unchanged also is the languid playing, wholly biographical lyrics and deceptive simplicity. In the old days, Kozelek's confessions were obscured by cavernous vocal reverbs; here, he replaces his unease with a confidence that borders on pretension.

No doubt it has to do with his subject matter. Ghosts is obsessed with the past, particularly those of obscure boxers no one could pick out of a police lineup (examples: the song "Salvador Sanchez," the 14-minute sobfest "Duk Koo Kim" and even the name Sun Kil Moon). As with AC/DC — for whom he once penned an entire tribute album — and Denver, Kozelek takes on his subjects' pasts as his own. These 10 tracks often sound morose, though the band tries letting loose quite a bit. Ghosts delivers, for the first time in Kozelek's career, something resembling pop songs, as appropriate for windows-down driving as they are for solo-drinking, "why me?!?" binges. www.jetsetrecords.com —MARK SANDERS

Feels Like Home
Blue Note

A shy, fresh-faced girl put out a little album on an elite jazz label a couple of years ago and damn if it didn't sweep the Grammys and sell 8 million copies. Stakes is high for Norah Jones' second Blue Note disc, Feels Like Home. By rights, she shouldn't be expected to repeat the commercial success of Come Away With Me, but the biz will expect it anyway. Jones fans should be encouraged that Feels Like Home delivers the goods; it's a solid, listenable album that presents her in a slightly more sophisticated light, but doesn't scrub away the innocence that made her appealing in the first place. But Home needs more flashes of transcendence, the kind of inspirational moments that can render an album truly exciting. Jones and her team continue to establish her as a genre-crossing singer-songwriter who can infuse her intimate sound with jazz, blues, country and folk with equal aplomb. The sprightly two-step "Creepin' In," a duet with Dolly Parton, could end up a country hit; and "Humble Me" ("You humble me Lord/ Please, please, please forgive me") might get some action on Christian radio. Jones wrote or co-wrote seven of the songs, and as a lyricist she's still reliant on love cliches. But her dusky voice has a few new textures this time around; she seems in better command of her pipes. To these ears, the disc's best song is the closer, "Don't Miss You at All," where Jones puts bittersweet lyrics to the lovely Ellington instrumental "Melancholia" and sings it tenderly, backed by just her own piano. The rest of the album, sturdy though it may be, could use more magic like this. —ERIC SNIDER

Delirium Cordia

It's pretty pointless to characterize this disc as misanthropic, pretentious and overly conceptualized. This is, after all, Fantomas, the all-star sonic palate-sandblaster headed up by Bungle-boss Mike Patton and featuring guitarist Buzz Osborne (Melvins), drummer Dave Lombardo (Slayer) and bassist Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle). It's supposed to be all of those things, as the extremely graphic autopsy-style album artwork implies. Somewhere in their online bio the phrase "uneasy listening" appears, and there really isn't a better description; Delirium Cordia is one looooong track, a sound-movie with more dynamics, disturbing atmosphere and sudden plot twists than your favorite Cronenberg flick. Sure, you get what you'd expect from such an experiment: ominous horror-theme chimes, indecipherable noise, the occasional doomy guitar interlude, cacophonic non-rhythmic blasts, and long periods of almost nothing. But you also get what you want from a man of Patton's talent and vision, including some really unsettling shit — an aural vignette of EMTs losing a patient while disharmonic bells raise a clamor; a seemingly endless period of dental tools quietly doing their work; skin-crawlingly inhuman vocal histrionics; cartoon themes from Carl Stalling's bad-acid nightmare. There is a goodly amount of (sort of) "real" music in there, too, both vocal and instrumental, and everything is worth hearing at least once. It's a trip worth taking. However, the fact that afterward you've gotta dig through the one marathon track to hear it again, or set aside the whole hour or whatever to get creeped out, reveals itself as a serious setback. —SCOTT HARRELL

Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell
Warner Bros.

Oklahoma's pop eccentrics just keep pushing out new product in the form of EPs, remixes and DVDs. Kudos to them. It's great to see a highly creative band not be so damn stingy with its recordings. (Hey, all this stuff will be fresh again come box-set time.) Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell, the second U.S. EP to spin off from 2002's Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, includes four worthy new originals. The first three are ruminations on the sun, darkness, death, sex and love, the kind of ethereally melodic, neo-psychedelic pieces that have defined the band's best work in recent years. Far less satisfying is the closer, "A Change at Christmas," a barely decent holiday song that fell on these ears well after the first of the year. The disc is rounded out by three remixes, including another pass at the infectious "Do You Realize??" (the original is heard in a current car commercial) that amps up the song with a muted drum 'n' bass groove. "Ego Tripping," also from Yoshimi, gets two overhauls, both with a definite electro feel but strongly featuring the melody and vocals. The Flaming Lips are among a few brave rock groups that allow their original recordings to become fodder for deconstruction, which opens new possibilities. They're also one of the few chance-taking cult groups that have stayed with the same major label for more than a decade (they signed to Warners in 1990). This enduring relationship is starting to pay off. 1/2—ERIC SNIDER

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