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Sun Kil Moon

Whether recording under the moniker Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon or his given name, Mark Kozelek always captures the sonic essence of driving on a wide-open highway just as the light of dawn seeps into the distant horizon. Hearing the San Francisco singer/songwriter for the first time, you wonder why you'd never heard of this cosmic balladeer with the bluest of blue guitars. Listening to him for the hundredth time, you wonder how he remains almost famous (the title of the Cameron Crowe film Kozelek acted in) instead of becoming a towering indie-rock deity.

Kozelek's first effort since his 2005 album of Modest Mouse covers (Tiny Cities), April possesses all the Neil Young-on-codeine beauty typical of his now-impressive catalogue, the only difference being the number of alt-rock stars (Ben Gibbard, Eric Pollard, Will Oldham) making barely discernible guest vocal appearances.

It's all here--the lovely acoustic fingerpicking ("Harper Road"), the gritty Zuma-era Crazy Horse chugging ("The Light"), the layers of shimmering electric-guitar arpeggios ("Moorestown") and Kozelek's drowsy yet plaintive tenor, a voice ideally suited for his meditations on family, memory and mortality.

By the time you drift into "Blue Orchids," and Kozelek's fluttering flamenco runs cause your pulse to quicken, it will have been too late: This is powerful music that evokes the heart's rawest moments. Note: Early copies of this album contain a bonus CD with alternate versions of four tracks.

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