1. Sun Kil Moon - "Si Paloma"
Throughout the past two posts, I've laid out a variety of explanations why each instrumental works. I ranked "Si Paloma" ahead of the rest because it embodies these reasons better than any other instrumental in my catalog. "Si Paloma" is defined by a folk mariachi feel--it's funny (but not difficult) to imagine it scoring a Mexico City tourism video. Shakers, pizzicato violins, a thicket of quivering mandolin strums--it's a musical fiesta, but the steady build is sterling. It's surprising that Kozelek--a minimalist, through and through--was so meticulous in the song's arrangement. Countermelodies playfully interweave like swooping sparrows, and the rhythm guitar abides all these flourishes by providing a bed of unremitting open-tuned strums. Overall, it's a complex arrangement that likely took a great deal of foresight and planning.
The song would be a thing of beauty on its own, but its effect on the album is just as profound. Its predecessor is the 14-minute epic "Duk Koo Kim", which begins as a vast rocker and then seamlessly transitions into an acoustic dreamscape. It has a sedative quality, and over the course of its final half, tapers off until the final notes burn off. Then "Si Paloma's" major-key panache take flight. The slow build lifts us out of the ruminative recesses of "Duk Koo Kim" and soars for five minutes, setting up the album's finale, "Pancho Villa", a 5-star song that boasts a brilliant instrumental bridge of its own.
I've gone on record saying Ghosts of the Great Highway is my favorite album, and I'm not sure it would be if "Si Paloma" was missing. From both from an aesthetic and a practical standpoint, it deftly achieves what instrumental tracks should: plays a role in the narrative thread of the album, and sounds darned good doing it.
Wrap-up post coming soon...