Mark Kozelek has enough songs in him that he doesn't have to do covers, but that doesn't mean he should stop. As the leader of Red House Painters, Kozelek peppered his albums with takes on Simon & Garfunkel, Paul McCartney, Yes, The Cars, and even "The Star-Spangled Banner." After label woes sidelined him for a few years, he broke the silence with Rock 'N' Roll Singer, an EP whose John Denver and AC/DC covers led to a Kozelek-produced Denver tribute album and to What's Next To The Moon, an album-length exploration of Bon Scott-era AC/DC songs. While there's no mistaking one of Kozelek's songs for anyone else's, it's not as hard to mistake someone else's songs for one of his, once he's translated it into his lush, unhurried style.
That's the case with Tiny Cities, from Kozelek's latest band, Sun Kil Moon—the 11-song collection of Modest Mouse covers leaves little intact beyond Isaac Brock's lyrics. Those already familiar with Modest Mouse's sonic adventurousness might suspect this isn't enough, but anyone who comes as a Kozelek fan first may not even notice the difference. Both parties should come away pretty pleased.
Removed from their urgent, anthemic settings, Brock's lyrics take on a life of their own. Kozelek draws out poignant touches that can sometimes get lost in the rush. He doesn't so much recast "Ocean Breathes Salty" as a tender dirge as draw out the tender dirge that was there all along. So it goes throughout Tiny Cities, which accomplishes the two key tasks that a covers album should always strive for: It stands on its own, and it makes it impossible to hear the originals in quite the same way.