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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, June 24, 2024

The good times are Sun Kil Moon

Have you ever been engaged in a conversation about your love for Modest Mouse when, all of a sudden, someone interrupts with "Oh yeah, I've heard of them, I love 'Float On'!" Did you avoid brutally murdering the ignorant fool for fear of seeming elitist but quietly suggested that they don't know what the hell they are talking about? Sun Kil Moon tackles this dilemma by composing "Tiny Cities," a cover album of acoustic interpretations of Modest Mouse's greatest hits and a must-hear for those so-called "elitist" fans out there.

"Tiny Cities" being Sun Kil Moon's second full album, the band is taking a big risk by showing this level of creative freedom so early in their career. But lead singer Mark Kozelek is no stranger to experimentation, especially as it pertains to covers. He has put out numerous albums over the years under his independently-owned label, Caldo Verde, including 2001's "What's Next to the Moon," in which he takes on rock gods AC/DC.

You might be thinking to yourself, "Modest Mouse? AC/DC? This guy really knows how to rock!" It's much more interesting, however, for Kozelek to turn the dial down from eleven, since these bands have been playing at one louder long enough to hold us all over for many years to come.

In general, the most interesting cover albums are recorded in a style far different from the originals, and "Tiny Cities" is no exception. Just as Me First and the Gimme Gimmes found their greatest success doing punk covers of classic soul hits, Sun Kil Moon brings a slow, steady, soft-rock style to some of the most raw, experimental rock music available to form a striking contrast.

The most evident change that Sun Kil Moon has brought to Modest Mouse's work is steady simplicity. Whereas the original music can ranged from grunge rock ("Convenient Parking") to a country hoedown ("Jesus Christ Was an Only Child"), Kozelek somehow makes each song stylistically fade into the next.

Although some are simply guitar and vocals and others feature percussion and a string section, the songs are brought together by the common approach. The band combines complex, fast progressions with a soft, gentle voice reminiscent of The Beatles' famous "Blackbird."

Modest Mouse's lyrics are so abstract that they can accommodate any musical interpretation. The classic "Trucker's Atlas," for example, normally accentuates a sense of excitement with jerky rhythms and a fast tempo, but as these elements are stripped away and replaced by a slower rhythms listeners must think even harder about what the already abstract lyrics mean. After listening to this album, fans of the poetry of music will want to own an energetic version of Modest Mouse for the morning and a softer, gentler Modest Mouse for the evening.

There is a reason, though, why The Beatles only wrote one "Blackbird." Listening to "Twin Cities" without the proper context will put the average college student to sleep faster than an 8:30 philosophy lecture.

The album is a tribute, a corollary to an already impressive display of music and poetry. In discovering this album, the average consumer must therefore be careful not to overlook the music's origins, because having two interpretations of each song to compare is what gives Sun Kil Moon's work here life and meaning.

Overall, original Modest Mouse is far superior, but Kozelek's unconventional experiment successfully pays tribute to the complexity of Modest Mouse's work and adds new dimensions to the words. Fans of Modest Mouse will greatly appreciate new dimensions that "Twin Cities" brings to these classics.

Those who aren't as familiar with the band's work should realize that even the mere existence of such a masterful cover album proves the influence and importance that this legendary indie rock band has demonstrated over the years. Our advice: discover Modest Mouse first, and when you are ready check out "Tiny Cities."

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