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Monday, November 28, 2005

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.)


At November 28, 2005 at 2:23 PM, Anonymous terri said...

I agree with Dan that this album (which I've heard in bits and pieces as he's played it) is too repetitive. Stripping the songs down to vocals and acoustic guitar makes for an interesting concept, but it's kind of boring in practice. It highlights the song structure well, I think, but that kind of stuff comes through with repeated listens of the originals.

Also, "Ocean Breaths Salty" is one of my favourite Modest Mouse songs -- definitely my favourite on the last disc -- and it's already a pretty song. I don't really get why it had to be made both pretty and a bit dull.

Anyway, I think this is something that is kind of neat to hear once, if you're a Modest Mouse fan, and that hits the mark a few times. But it doesn't hold up so well to repeated listens. Eventually it gets kind of hard to tell the songs apart, because they're all played out with whispery vocals and gentle guitar strumming.

At November 28, 2005 at 3:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you ever heard any of his other covers?

At November 28, 2005 at 5:33 PM, Anonymous Steve said...

This music is bad.

A generous score with a 6. I mean that I like music that rocks and so i was never going to like this but stilL! This put mt to sleep.

At November 28, 2005 at 10:43 PM, Anonymous Laura said...

Cute idea.

But it doesn't sound good from the few songs I have heard.

At November 30, 2005 at 5:27 AM, Anonymous Ronan said...

In theory this sounded excellent, in practice it doesn't work so well. I agree with Dan's rating here. It's good to listen to one song at a time, but not the whole album at once.

At June 1, 2006 at 2:13 PM, Blogger Toad734 said...

I still think I am going to get it


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