Sun Kil Moon- Tiny Cities
Label: Caldo Verde Records
The term 'cover album' comes with a certain sense of reservation to any listener, especially when the artist covering is attempting to recreate the timeless and troubled songs of Modest Mouse in their prime. However, Mark Kozelek, leader and foremost musician of Sun Kil Moon, tries to do exactly that with the aptly titled Tiny Cities. Before you run away from this page and never again entertain the notion of covers of Modest Mouse songs, wait for a little while; Kozelek, despite the mammoth feat that he takes on with this album, sufficiently and beautifully chronicles some of the best Modest Mouse songs in his own delicate, acoustic way.
Where Modest Mouse's version of these songs tend to veer into jaunty and broken, albeit genius, musicianship and instrumentation, Kozelek instead chooses to let the words speak for themselves in a way that, dare I say, Modest Mouse does not do, ala Kozelek's "Trucker's Atlas" cover. It's as if Sun Kil Moon took a book of Isaac Brock poetry, without any regard to the form in which the poetry was sung or accompanied by Modest Mouse, and set them to a delicate guitar that is only fleshed out with bits of drums and strings in small places. The aforementioned "Trucker's Atlas" features only two guitars and Kozelek's gentle tenor quintessentially accounting Brock's lyrics, with the song ended in a Spartan 2:49, where Modest Mouse's version clocks in at over 10 minutes.
The album starts short but strong, with harmonics and high picking accentuating the minimal lyrics of Brock's "Exit does not Exist." The album is ordered in an almost conceptual way; Kozelek sings as if he on the road and he is Brock. Somehow, throughout the mass of emotive sincerity in Modest Mouse songs, Kozelek has managed to claw at Brock's subtle emotions and bring them out in his own vocal delivery, ala his cover of "Jesus Christ was an Only Child."
Another thing to note about the instrumentation of the songs: they bear almost no resemblance to the Modest Mouse songs, whether in key or in beat. Case in point, the cover version of "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes." While it is ostensibly the weakest cover on the entire album, Sun Kil Moon completely transfer the once jaunty and haunting Brock tune into an almost bedtime song. It fails here however; Kozelek should have left "Tiny Cities made of Ashes" alone, because of the perfect emotions Brock sings in his version. An example of a better 180 degree from the Modest Mouse song is the cover of "Convenient Parking," which was once a grinding alt-rock tune, now has been turned into a almost acoustic A Perfect Circle tone by Kozelek.
And, with these completely different versions of the songs, I have to say there are some in which the instrumentation + vocal delivery + lyrics of the cover are greater than the sum of the Modest Mouse elements of the original. Case in point, the two strongest songs, "Never Ending Math Equation" and "Ocean Breathes Salty." "Equation" is pop acoustic tune with light cymbals and electric guitar that is brutally honest and confronting, using Brock's lyrics perfectly in relation to the music.
And then there is "Ocean Breathes Salty." If there is one song you listen to on this album, listen to this one. It is a picture perfect representation of Brock's lyrics reflected in the subtle guitar picking of Kozelek. The way he sings, as well, brings out the best in Brock's words; he emphasizes things that Brock doesn't, and he goes into his weakly emotive upper register in all the right places. When all is said and done, it shines above the Modest Mouse version as a beautiful exemplar of the power of Isaac Brock's poetry.
If anything, Sun Kil Moon's covers of Modest Mouse illustrate two things: 1. Isaac Brock is a beautiful poet (as if we didn't know already) and 2. Mark Kozelek knows how to interpret Brock musically. This is not to say that Modest Mouse don't, it is merely to say that Kozelek knows how to take a product of another (Brock) and turn it into something that simultaneously highlights his skills as a musician and the original beauty of the lyrics. Tiny Cities, if given enough time, is the perfect exemplar of what a cover album should be.
Recommended: Poetry of Isaac Brock, Iron & Wine, bedtime stories
1. Exit Does Not Exist
2. Tiny Cities Made of Ashes
3. Neverending Math Equation
4. Space Travel is Boring
6. Jesus Christ was an Only Child
7. Four Fingered Fisherman
8. Grey Ice Water
9. Convinient Parking
10. Trucker's Atlas
11. Ocean Breathes Salty.
sounds like a cool idea. I dont know if I'm bummed or happy that "Cowboy Dan" isn't on that list.
i thought the same thing about Cowboy Dan actually.
i dunno, i think its more of a positive because it doesn't really fit in with the whole conceptual notion of SKM's covers... and it just doesn't really seem to have that really soft acoustic-able vibe about it... course i didnt think that about "Ocean Breathes SAlty" at first either hahaha.