Sun Kill Moon: Tiny Cities
Sun Kill Moon frontman Mark Kozelek is a strange character. Without argument in listening to his music you can tell he is very talented, well trained, and has a ncie voice. Reading up on him tells me he also has had success writing his own music, and has covered such bands as Kiss, AC/DC, John Denver, and now Modest Mouse. "Tiny Cities" is an entire album devoted to covers of Modest Mouse songs. As a longtime Modest Mouse fan I actually was far more intrigued by this than I was offended. I don't blame you however if you feel the opposite. I think that is completely justifiable.
But what really created a genuine intrigue for me about "Tiny Cities" is the style of the album. Had these have been slight variations that reminded me of the original I would never have heard it. But instead, Sun Kill Moon takes these aggressive, frantic Modest Mouse songs and strips them down until they are essentially naked. Until what you are left with is gentle almost classical guitar mostly acoustic, and a touch of strings the rest of the work is left to Mark's vocals. Which remind me somewhat of Lou Barlow's 2005 solo record "Emoh".
The result isn't as exciting as the description. I wanted to love this album. I wanted to feel an urge to go out and buy this album. I had a huge bias going in expecting greatness. It didn't come close to delivering. I'm still happy I heard it. I have a new appeciation for Isaac Brock's song writing ability and it was definitely an experience hearing these songs in such a different context. But it is limited. Many of the songs are boring, or repetitive and quite frankly i'm not a big fan of the tracklist. A better tracklist would have helped but not saved this project. This album has been destroyed, and adored and everything in between by reviewers. So don't take my word as gospel. But enough already let's do the songs.
Rather than get into the negative part of this review I would prefer to start with the positive. "Dramamine" is one of the better covers on "Tiny Cities". I really adore the original and so I likely put this cover up against more scrutiny and yet it still held up better than some of the more obscure tracks. I like the subtle eerie nature of this cover. Rather than the much more pretty, asthetically pleasing covers that don't work as well this song manages to keep true to a key element to Modest Mouse music. This subtle change makes all the difference in the world to the cover. It sounds much more interesting. The trademark whining quick guitar riff from the middle is here too except toned down like everything is on this album. Turns out "Dramamine" is actually a rather pretty song in this context. I never would have thought.
My other favourite is "Convenient Parking". This is just a short cover tallying in just under 2 minutes. The original is a cult Modest Mouse classic. There are few songs that encompass exactly why it is I prefer older Modest Mouse to the new stuff better than "Convenient Parking". I am happy to see it made this tracklist. This is a spirited cover, does the original proud. The acoustic guitar is being strummed harder here than anywhere else and Mark's voice has some grit and passion in it. Agan the acoustic guitar has a darkness to it that is lacking more often than not on the album. He hardly breathes between sentences, just taking a quick gasp and making an acoustic pop cover of "Convenient Parking" about as manic as he knows how. My only beef is the chorus which needed to be jazzed up somehow. Still, I like this song a fair bit.
So now on to the negative side of things. "Space Travel Is Boring" for instance. The word boring would be the most important part of that song name here. I wonder if Mark Kozelek believes in the concept so much that he just assumes all he has to do is slow down, acoustify and gently sing the lyrics to each song and it is bound to work. If so, he needs to go back to the drawing board. I could see people liking this song who dont' like Modest Mouse and just enjoy it for it being tranquil and because the lyrics are sweet. But, is that really the goal? I mean if Kozelek is making this album for non Modest Mouse fans then isn't he essentially ripping off Modest Mouse songs and trying to trick people? I would think he should want to make covers that Modest Mouse fans can appreciate as well. This song just drags and drags. The background is so minimal and repetitive that it is hard to make it to the ending. Unfortunately this isn't the only track with this problem.
When I saw this album "Grey Ice Water" stood out as a song I looked forward to hearing. This is another one of my all time picks by Modest Mouse. Now this isn't as bad the prior track. At least he incorporates a chill drum roll in the background that I like. But, this song suffers from high expectations. See.... if the original wasn't one of the best Modest Mouse songs then the cover wouldn't have to be one of the best you see where i'm going? I think that is fair of me to expect. The cover is to vanilla. That is my biggest bitch about this entire project. It is just too vanilla. You can experiment with these covers without abandoning the concept, and he does it from time to time. But why he only does it on three or four tunes is beyond me.
Last one. The only song he goes with off the last album is "Ocean Breathes Salty". And he does an adequate job with it. But here is my complaint. This song actually didn't really need to be toned down into this format. The original is actually one of the closest styles to what this album is all about anyhow. Don't get me wrong, he had to change it up to fit the format but why not pick one of the more crazy songs and do it? Oh well. I'm not sure if this is a good cover, or this song is just so good to begin with that it would sound great under almost any format. I tend to think the latter is more true.
I could tell you the same thing about most of these songs but by now you probably get the point. The best I can say about "Tiny Cities" is I think if you are a Modest Mouse fan of their entire catalogue that you should check this out at least once. It really will give you a new appreciation for the lyrics which nromally aren't the first part of a Modest Mouse song you focus on. Other than that if you never GOT Modest Mouse and always wanted too I think that you might be another person who would enjoy this. Otherwise, there are better artists writing their own music that sounds like this, or Modest Mouse themselves is far superior to this. Just my opinion.... but i'm right.
Songs to download: "Convenient Parking", "Ocean Breathes Salty" Dramamine"
SCORE: 6.0 (Had a tough time scoring this one, could have gone even lower but at least the concept was ambitious.)