November 10, 2005

Sun Kil Moon "Tiny Cities"

Mark Kozelek’s interpretation of the music of others has always been interesting. From AC/DC to Paul McCartney and from The Cars to Yes, there’s just something magical about the way he strips well-known (and not so well-known) songs down to their most basic level. Just listen to his two AC/DC tribute records, and you’ll be quietly astonished at that band’s lyrical brilliance. His latest endeavor—released under the Sun Kil Moon moniker—examines the works and the words of Modest Mouse. It’s an interesting proposition, of course—but does it work?

It’s impossible to deny that Kozelek’s sound is all his own, and his voice is instantly recognizable. And, once again, he’s made these songs sound as if they were his own. Removing these songs from the quirky hands of Isaac Brock might seem a daunting feat, but he’s done exactly that. Devoid of any form of rhythm or beat, these songs are dark, haunting and somewhat disturbing—and at the same time, they’re intensely beautiful. (That’s not a word I’d have used to describe much of Modest Mouse’s music.) At times, it’s hard to even recognize some of the songs, because they sound so different. “Ocean Breathes Salty,” one of Modest Mouse’s best songs, totally changes into one of Kozelek’s best songs. “Neverending Math Equation” sounds like an outtake from The Ghost of the Great Highway. Kozelek’s instrumental arrangements are impeccable; he truly makes Modest Mouse’s lyrics his own.

Even though Kozelek’s an excellent interpreter, that doesn’t mean Tiny Cities is a perfect record. Many of the songs are brief--very brief, in fact—and the arrangements feel tossed-off. Did Kozelek half-ass it for Tiny Cities? It’s hard to say, but with “Exit Does Not Exist” and “Convenient Parking” lasting less than two minutes, it’s hard not to think that. While Kozelek may have excellent arrangement skills, and his interpretations are unique and often breathtaking, it’s still hard to rectify how skint Tiny Cities seems. The only logical reasoning for this is that he’s trying to highlight Modest Mouse’s lyrical prowess—many of the original versions of these songs are rambling affairs with quirky instrumental passages—and focusing on the lyrics naturally produces brief songs. It’s the only explanation that makes sense, especially considering Kozelek’s not known for writing brief songs.

Still, Kozelek doesn’t make bad records, and Tiny Cities, though flawed, is still a beautiful record. If anything, Kozelek has once again demonstrated that a very distinctive band wrote some rather beautiful songs.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website:
Label Website:

No comments: