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Sun Kil Moon

Tiny Cities


by Ian Mann

April 10, 2006


This is an intriguing album on Rough Trade Records; it's impact growing on repeated listening. A quiet gem.

Sun Kil Moon is the brainchild of singer/guitarist Mark Kozelek former leader of cult San Francisco band The Red House Painters, and “Tiny Cities” an album of cover versions taken from the oeuvre of contemporary American band Modest Mouse.

Kozelek has released a previous covers album under his own name. “What Next The Moon” was a radical re-think of Bon Scott era AC/DC material executed in a gentle acoustic style. I suspect that Kozelek has attempted something similar here but as I am totally unfamiliar with the works of Modest Mouse the songs on “Tiny Cities” have to stand or fall on their own merits in the form that they are presented here.

The music on the eleven songs covered never rises above medium tempo. In the main the arrangements are led by Kozelek’s acoustic guitar and conversational vocals. Tasteful string arrangements are deployed on some songs courtesy of Alan Molina (violin) and Michi Aceret (viola). A full rhythm section is used sparingly featuring bassist Geoff Stanfield.

The overall mood of the songs is one of resigned melancholy and isolation recalling Bob Mould in his rare acoustic moments. Narrative songs such as “Grey Ice Water” and especially “Trucker’s Atlas” are particularly effective pieces of Americana capturing the vastness of that huge country. Like many of the other songs on the album they evoke a spirit of restlessness, of always needing to be moving on. “Space Travel Is Boring”, the album’s catchiest tune describes the disillusion when you get there.

This is the second album Kozelek has recorded under the Sun Kil Moon banner following the earlier “Ghosts Of The Great Highway”, and despite the group identity the album has clearly been a labour of love for Kozelek as it has the feel of a solo album. Occasionally the music sounds a little becalmed which would benefit from further subtle propulsion from the rhythm section.

The album’s minimalist packaging reveals very little about the music or the players, and unfortunately no lyrics are reproduced which is a pity, as this would have greatly enhanced the enjoyment of these songs, which on first listening sound as if they have plenty to say.

It would also be interesting to hear the Modest Mouse originals.

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