The music of Mark Kozelek, whether made with his former band Red House Painters, under his own name, or as Sun Kil Moon, has been described many ways: dreamy, melancholic, and wistful come to mind. With the release of his newest covers album, Like Rats, you can add creepy to the list. The songs he’s picked to cover have lyrics that are alternately menacing and depressing, either overtly or because they’ve been stripped of their accompanying upbeat music. Kozelek has never shied away from darker themes in his music: the yearning loss in RHP’s “Michael,” death and loneliness (and maybe serial killers?) in SKM’s “Glenn Tipton,” regret and self-pity in his cover of John Denver’s “I’m Sorry.” Kozelek’s voice often soars over the intricate guitars, though, and its sweetness lends the songs a faint glimmer of hope. But on “Like Rats,” he sings a register lower than usual (more on that decision later) and piles dark song upon dark song until the listener is off-balance from the assault of negativity. The album is barely 30 minutes in length, and anything more might be too much.
Mark Kozelek‘s “band” Sun Kil Moon arrived on the scene with the sprawling Ghosts of the Great Highway in 2003, filled with introspective, echoey acoustic pieces as well as electrified, crunchy, Neil Young-esque epics. “Salvador Sanchez” is the hardest rocking song on the album, although it is revisited as the softer “Pancho Villa” for the album closer. Brooklyn husband and wife team, Little Silver, do a significantly stripped down version of “Sanchez” that’s even more peaceful than Kozelek’s own “Pancho Villa.”
Mark Kozelek, leader of now defunct ’90s group Red House Painters and the sole member of Sun Kil Moon, has made a name for himself as an excellent cover artist. From his entire album of Modest Mouse covers (which many reviewers initially thought was new material) to his heartfelt album of AC/DC covers, his haunting voice immediately reveals the sadness behind any song. Mark’s own material is even more dense and has an instantly recognizable quality to it. Perhaps that’s why there are so few covers of his songs.
Jackson 5 covers were so Summer 2009. When Sun Kil Moon (aka. Mark Kozelek aka. Red House Painters) releases his take though, all Michael Jackson oversaturation goes out the window. We already know the man’s cover skills are without parallel. His 2005 album tenderly reinterpreting Modest Mouse songs as mournful ballads is a must-buy.
Sun Kil Moon released Admiral Fell Promises in July. Now it comes with a bonus disc: the I’ll Be There EP. Along with the Jackson 5 title track, it includes versions of Stereolab’s “Tomorrow” and Casiotone for the Painfully Alone’s “Natural Light.” We’ve got the M.J. & co. tune below. Like everything he does, it’s a heartbreakingly beautiful downer.
Shuffle Sundays is a weekly feature in which we feature a cover chosen at random by my iTunes shuffle. The songs will usually be good, occasionally be bad, always be interesting. All downloads will only be available for one week, so get them while you can.
When I first heard Sun Kil Moon’s Tiny Cities, I didn’t realize it was all Modest Mouse covers. This is funny since I’m sure that’s the reason I bought it in the first place. By the time I got around to listening, though, I’d entirely forgotten that fact. Instead, I fell in love with Mark Kozelek’s sparse acoustic songs, eleven short gems of haunting beauty.
When I finally learned that these were not originals, I didn’t know how to feel. I’d already built a relationship with the album under one set of assumptions, and finding those tested jarred me a bit.
Needless to say, I came around. If anything, I’m even more impressed at how natural these sound in such drastic rearrangements. Pickin’ on Modest Mouse this ain’t (though that also exists).
“Convenient Parking” is a perfect example. Like many of Isaac Brook’s songs, the meaning is open to interpretation. When I hear it, I can’t help being reminded of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”: the parking lot as symbolic of urban sprawl, itself symbolic of America bulldozing its past.
Kozelek ditches the grungy sound of the original (first released on Modest Mouse’s 1997 The Lonesome Crowded West) for spare plucking and a stream-of-consciousness run through the lyrics, knocking the entirety of the original’s 4:08 into under two minutes. Whew.
Sun Kil Moon – Convenient Parking (Modest Mouse) [Buy]
What do you think? Sound off in the comments section below.