Hello, and welcome to Albumfone! If you know the name of the album you’d like to hear, press one. You have selected, Tiny Cities by Sun Kil Moon. If your reaction is “My God, what has this bastard done with my precious Modest Mouse material,” press one. If your reaction is “Wow, these songs are so good, I feel like I’m cheating on Isaac Brock,” press two. If you reaction is “Who the hell are Modest Mouse and Sun Kil Moon,” hang up, you silly silly person!
Until Good News for People Who Love Bad News, and it’s radio hits “Float On” and “Ocean Breathes Salty,” Modest Mouse polarized fans with its angular guitars and Isaac Brock’s signature `lisp and shout’ over its course of albums with Up and K Records. Were it not for liner note lyrics, Brock’s delivery could leave most songs a jumbled mess, interpreted by only the most attentive and savvy, which is unfortunate because MM’s lyrics are enigmatic, clever and witty. This is where Mark Kozelek comes in. As a leading member of Red House Painters and now on his own with the name Sun Kil Moon, Kozelek’s spare, quiet style and attention to detail lends something special to Brock’s compositions in Tiny Cities, an album by Sun Kil Moon made entirely of Modest Mouse covers.
Upon inspection and listening, one can easily tell that Kozelek is a devoted Mouse fan. Songs are carefully chosen from six different releases, reaching all the way back to This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About, which boasts three songs, the most from any one album. In effect, this isn’t just someone who hopped on board after Good News. Plus, the songs chosen aren’t necessarily the fan favorites. OK, “Dramamine” is here, but there’s no “Doin’ the Cockroach,” “Cowboy Dan,” “3rd Planet,” “Paper Thin Walls” or “Float On.” And thank goodness! The danger there, of course, is that Kozelek is not only tempting the wrath of Mouse die hards, but also is not being as truly representative of the great songwriting for which Isaac Brock is known.
In Kozelek’s hands, songs like “Truckers Atlas,” “Space Travel is Boring” and “Grey Ice Water” become beautiful and spare meditations. The bass heavy funk horror of “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes” takes on a new life more than almost any other song on the album, changing it from paranoid macabre to pensive resignation, which makes it fitting that he chooses a truncated version of the title for his collection. For fans, these songs are going to be only barely recognizable, with mostly lyrical content being the guiding light. For newcomers or those who find Brock’s material difficult to breach, this is a wonderful introduction, showcasing not only the unique wordsmithing of Brock, but also the delicate instrumentation of Kozelek, both artists too long underrated.
Some may find my ‘Albumphone’ intro a little goofy, but the second choice phrase is a quotation actually taken from real life. A friend of mine actually said this after hearing Tiny Cities, which in itself is testament to the brilliance of the material. What Kozelek has essentially done is use a time machine in reverse. Rather than cover these songs by updating the sound, he has looked at the compositions the way a Smithsonian Folkways historian or Alan Lomax would, as if he were looking at Modest Mouse years in the future, regressing the music back to its Americana roots, putting Brock into the upper echelon of songwriters, even though both are locked in the same era. Did that make sense? No matter, Tiny Cities does.
Sun Kil Moon- Ghosts of the Great Highway
Ugly Casanova- Sharpen Your Teeth
Mark Kozelek- Rock N’ Roll Singer