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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Sun Kills Mouse with Tiny City

Published: November 11, 2005
Section: Arts, Etc.

Every music fan has their individual dream team: a band compiled of their favorite musicians into one massive supergroup. Yet, with the result of a number of actual supergroups being less than stellar, such as the short-lived Eyes Adrift (featuring members of Nirvana, Sublime, and the Meat Puppets) and the rather boring, formulaic Audioslave, other music fans, and some bands, strive for their ideal cover group. Just imagine the possibilities: System of a Down covering the Rolling Stones, the Polyphonic Spree covering Metallica, Green Day covering Pink Floyd. Even now, the Pixies could confound and astound music fans around the world by covering the one band whos success was dependent on their inventive musical output: Nirvana. While the possibility of any of these musical oddities actually occurring, Sun Kil Moon have taken that very leap with their latest release, Tiny Cities, an entire album compiled of Modest Mouse covers.

An audacious task for most well known and established bands to try and complete, Tiny Cities can only further the reputation of the little-known band of Sun Kil Moon while spreading the reputation of frontman Mark Kozelek on par with Janes Addictions bombastic first release Janes Addiction, a live album from a band no one (at the time) was familiar with. Kozelek, the intrepid frontman for Moon, is something of an American indie legend: with his first group, Red House Painters, Kozelek presented a defining chapter in American indie music, American poetic musical writings with his very personal lyrics, and American folk musicians. Still unknown, Kozelek went solo, alienating some fans with his covers of John Denver and AC/DC, all the while adding some musical talent to Cameron Crowes Oscar winning Almost Famous, in which he played bass for the fictional band Stillwater. Even with a role in a big Hollywood production under his belt, it is not until Kozelek scrambled together members of Red House Painters and Black Lab to form Sun Kil Moon and release Ghosts of the Great Highway in 2003 that Kozelek began to finally gain some wider-recognition in the music world, albeit rather small.

It is with Tiny Cities that Kozelek is taking a massive leap to some ideal of fame, riding off of Modest Mouses newly found prominence in the mainstream music scene since Good News for People Who Love Bad News. Unfortunately, Kozelek may find that Sun Kil Moon may get some name recognition in the mainstream music press with their newest release, but it may not be what he was looking for. Tiny Cities starts off strong with Exit Does Not Exist, off of Modest Mouses first disc, This is a Long Drive For Someone With Nothing to Think About. Simple and sweet, the song presents some of the musical highlights from Moons Highway, complete with jarring acoustic guitar strumming and highlighting Kozeleks harrowing vocals.

The rest of the first half of Tiny Cities continually sets the bar higher for musical ingenuity, or as much ingenuity that can be placed into a cover while still holding its original composition, for the rest of the album. The first five tracks are truly some of the best of the entire CD: Tiny Cities Made of Ashes, off of Modest Mouses critically acclaimed The Moon and Antarctica, strips the original song of its overbearingly dark qualities and molds it into a song thats actually quite listenable. The song builds an illustrious and atmospheric background, as Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brocks manic lyrics truly sound more sorrowful and pang-filled as they emerge from Kozeleks whisper of a voice than Brocks frantic screaming.

Neverending Math Equation presents one of the more uplifting songs on the disc and Space Travel is Boring works as one of the more emotional pieces on the album. Dramamine takes the cake as it builds on Kozeleks frantic acoustic guitar work as the depression-soaked lyrics seep through the atmospheric instrumentals.

Unfortunately, after Dramamine, the album begins to loose its pace as it becomes bogged down under weighty, and at times, boring instrumentation on behalf of Sun Kil Moon. Four Fingered Fisherman and a number of other pieces act only as filler to the better Mouse renditions. While many Modest Mouse purists may rail against the entire album for not presenting that bands musical ingeniousness, the entire enactment for the cover album is for Sun Kil Moon to inject their own musical ability into these songs, and the later half of the album fails to do so. Whereas the first half of the album manages to strip down many of the songs of their, often times, overbearing musical composition and present them anew, the later half of the album is a dud. Tiny Cities misses the balance of Moons stellar Ghosts and gets bogged down under the repetitive guitar arrangements.

If anything Kozelek had done in the past hadnt alienated his fans, Tiny Cities may prove to do just that. The album certainly isnt for hard-core Modest Mouse fans, or even newcomers: Ocean Breathes Salty is the only song off of Good News, and Sun Kil Moon fails at covering it to the best of their ability, loosing the emotional zigzag of the original in their drawn-out acoustic number. The album certainly isnt for the average Sun Kil Moon fan as Tiny Cities manages to not highlight so many musical overtones featured in Ghosts. Yet, even though Kozelek doesnt reach a mark that many fans and critics have held high for the bands sophomore effort, the album isnt a failure: as bands across the map get ostracized for one terrible cover of another group, Sun Kil Moon manage to pull together a rather decent number of covers from some Modest Mouse songs which arent exactly their best work. In that respect, in the eyes of a seemingly impossible task, Kozelek is the only one who has enough chagrin to tackle it and come out with one of 2005s more interesting releases.
If you like this band then you might like:

Iron & Wine
Sufjan Stevens
Silver Jews
Modest Mouse

Iron & Wine and Calexico will be performing at the Avalon in Boston on Wednesday, December 7th, 2005.

Dont Miss:

What: The WBRS Concert
Who: Swim Team, Freeze Pop,
and Enon

(I have to find out when the events are because its not listened anywhere, so Ill email you the info either later today or tomorrow afternoon)

In Boston:

Who: All-American Rejects, Rooney, and The Academy Is…
Where: Avalon, Boston
When: This Friday, November 11th, 2005

Who: Alternative Routes, Averi, Bleu
Where: Avalon, Boston
When: This Saturday, November 12th, 2005