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Sun Kil Moon: 'Tiny Cities'


Imagine a singer-songwriter with a lilting folk-rock style covering the songs of alternative rockers. The band is Sun Kil Moon and it has remade the songs of alternative rock band Modest Mouse. Will Hermes has this review.

WILL HERMES reporting:

I'm a sucker for cover songs, and so is Mark Kozelek. With his band Red House Painters, he took things like "Long Distance Runaround" by Yes and Paul McCartney's "Silly Love Songs," slowed them way down and gave them entirely new emotional meaning, which to me is the mark of a truly great cover version.

(Soundbite of "Long Distance Runaround")

Mr. MARK KOZELEK (Singer): (Singing) Long distance runaround. Long time waiting to see a sound out.

HERMES: Kozelek's latest record with his new band Sun Kil Moon is called "Tiny Cities," and it's made up entirely of cover versions, all originally written and recorded by Isaac Brock of the alt-rock band Modest Mouse. It might seem like an odd match, but Kozelek revisits the group's earlier material before their big success with last year's CD "Good News for People Who Love Bad News." And like an archaeologist, he digs for hidden melodies. This is Modest Mouse's original version of "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes" from their 2000 CD "The Moon and Antarctica."

(Soundbite of "Made of Ashes")

MODEST MOUSE: (Singing) We're going down the road to tiny cities made of ashes. I'm going to hit you on the face. I'm going to punch you in your glasses. Oh, no.

HERMES: Now here's the Sun Kil Moon version.

(Soundbite of "Made of Ashes")

Mr. KOZELEK: (Singing) We're going down the road to a tiny city that's made of ashes. Gonna hit you on your face, gonna punch you in your glasses. Oh, no. Just got a message, said, yeah, hell is freezing over. Got a phone call from the Lord saying, `Boy, go get a sweater right now.'

HERMES: Where Isaac Brock likes angular lurching rhythms in his Modest Mouse recordings, Mark Kozelek smooths things out, holding hands with the songs and transforming their spasms into steady breathing. But the lyrics remain largely the same, which can make for a startling contrast, like when Kozelek sweetly threatens to punch someone in the face on the song we just heard.

But not all the covers change the originals so radically, and those can be the most interesting. The Sun Kil Moon version of "Convenient Parking," from what might be Modest Mouse's best record, 1997's "The Lonesome Crowded West," definitely gets the song's slow-burn intensity, teasing it out on his acoustic guitar as if over the course of making this record Isaac Brock's high-strung delivery has gotten under Kozelek's skin.

(Soundbite of "Convenient Parking")

Mr. KOZELEK: (Singing) Soon the chain reaction started in the parking lot, waiting to bleed on to the big streets that bleed on to the highways and off to other cities built to store and and sell these rocks. Well, aren't you feeling real dirty sitting in the parking lot. Convenient parking is way--convenient, yeah, parking, is way...

HERMES: Fans of the great American songbook or country music for that matter know that interpreting songs is as much an art as writing them. The rock world generally expects artists to compose their own material. But with "Tiny Cities," Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon makes an argument not just for his own abilities as a song interpreter but for the underappreciated songwriting skill of Isaac Brock. Some of Modest Mouse's more hard-rocking fans may conceivably hate this record, but some may like Kozelek's versions better than the originals.

NORRIS: The CD is "Tiny Cities" from Sun Kil Moon. Our reviewer is Will Hermes.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. KOZELEK: (Singing) It's not just takin' our time. Tiny horses...

ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Will Hermes