Dusted Reviews

Sun Kil Moon - Tiny Cities

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Sun Kil Moon

Album: Tiny Cities

Label: Caldo Verde

Review date: Dec. 11, 2005

There was a point in time when the idea of Mark Kozelek recording a full-length album of Modest Mouse covers would have been like the indie rock version of a Marciano-Ali bout. This was about 1997 or ’98, when Jeremiah Green was still drumming for the Issaquah, Washington trio, when their sound remained redolent of the diesel fumes and roadhouses about which they sang, when it wasn’t yet apparent that their best records (This is a Long Drive, The Lonesome Crowded West) were already behind them. This was before Mark Kozelek had repackaged a handful of acoustic AC/DC covers three different ways, when there was a greater degree of latitude to his sound, when he relied less heavily on Spartan – albeit exceptionally beautiful – guitar-and-vocal arrangements.

Nearly a decade later, Tiny Cities, a short 11-song record that draws from the full breadth of Modest Mouse’s care, has less to offer than perhaps it once could have. This won’t, and shouldn’t, matter to those who discover it strictly via the Modest Mouse connection (something that would have been unthinkable a decade ago). The Red House Painters frontman still possesses the rich, mournful voice that’s crept higher and higher in the mix since his break from the 4AD label. It’s a rare and remarkable voice, one capable of bleeding the hooligan out of Bon Scott-era AC/DC songs and making them dangerous like a drunk dialer with a roll of quarters. On a barely recognizable cover of Isaac Brock’s spastically panting “Exit Does Not Exist” – over brittle guitar plucking and bells like warm breath in the winter night – Kozelek’s voice can still carry the weight of revelation. But probably only for those unfamiliar with its contours.

For the rest of us, Tiny Cities differs very little from how we might expect it to sound. Kozelek reconfigures the jittery, Nero-fiddling melody of “Jesus Christ Was an Only Child” by ironing it flat, ending a few key lines with climbs up the octave ladder (though not to the heights of “Mistress,” which drew genuine shivers). He pulls the pinwheeling, planetary guitars of “Neverending Math Equation” into a tender, kaleidoscopic guitar-pop hook, emboldened by the rare support of light percussion. None of this is remotely unpleasant, but the thinnest of it feels canned. This is partly because we’ve heard this exercise before – on Rock ‘n Roll Singer and What’s Next to the Moon – and partly because these songs aren’t the open signifiers that Kozelek revealed the Bon Scott originals to be. On “Bad Boy Boogie” and “Love Hungry Man”, Kozelek made violence and misogyny sound profoundly anguished and alienating. A man who once sang ”I can still feel the sting in my hand where I hit you” was able to turn chauvinistic stadium rockers fully inside out. There’s significantly less at stake in the Modest Mouse material – some yelping and clawing to be beautified, some sinewy drumming to be replaced by chiming strings.

There’s one knockout song here, the cover of “Ocean Breathes Salty.” It’s the only track from Good News for People Who Love Bad News, and it’s almost enough to convince me that my resistance is a matter of proximity (I’m somebody with a badly ring-worn copy of the Grey Ice Water 7” and a burned copy of Good News I listen to hardly at all). Kozelek’s able to scrape away the ostentatious vocal clutter, the stale, radio-friendly drum breaks, and the compression-plagued faux-disco groove, to locate the nucleus of a beautiful song. ”Maybe we’ll get lucky and we’ll both grow old / Well I don’t know, I don’t know, I hope so” never did sound quite right in its previous context, and Kozelek sings it like it was written for him alone, over a languorous guitar line that would have fit snugly anywhere on Ocean Beach. ”That is that and this is this”, he goes on to sing, and you hope it isn’t that way the next time around.

By Nathan Hogan

Other Reviews of Sun Kil Moon


Admiral Fell Promises

Among the Leaves

Read More

View all articles by Nathan Hogan

Find out more about Caldo Verde

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.