Monday, January 19, 2009

Same Terroir, Different Hands (With Apologies to Brooklynguy)

I really can’t stand Modest Mouse. I know that Isaac Brock is regarded as a musical demi-god by many people, and I can’t understand why. To me it sounds like he’s just shouting, and a lot of the music is reminiscent of what my friends and I might have sounded like back in high school when we were trying to learn how to play our instruments. Curiously, however, when Mark Kozelek (of Sun Kil Moon, and formerly of Red House Painters) reworked a number of Modest Mouse songs for a cover album entitled Tiny Cities, it turned out to be one of my favorite things that he’s ever done. Kozelek is a brilliant songwriter himself, but he loves to reinterpret other people’s music as well, and at his shows you’re often likely to hear a stripped-down rendition of a song by AC/DC or Kiss in the middle of a set of original material. The striking thing about Kozelek’s imaginative and slightly cheeky cover versions is how vastly different they are from the versions that you might already know.

A fine example is Space Travel is Boring, one of my favorite tracks on Tiny Cities. The Modest Mouse song is relatively banal (one might even say boring): an ADD-infused piece of schizophrenia whose constant changes in tempo make it highly irritating rather than innovative. You can judge it for yourself here, paired with an equally irritating video that results in a semi-masochistic sensory experience.

Kozelek, on the other hand, transforms the song into a gem of rare and poignant beauty, brimming with longing and melancholy. The Sun Kil Moon recordings tend to be a little more highly produced than those of the old Red House Painters days, but that doesn’t diminish the essence of the music.

I was walking down a snowy Soho street in NYC the other day listening to this song on my iPod, and it made me think, obliquely, of brooklynguy’s post on terroir a couple of weeks back. He was talking about multiple interpretations of the same vineyard, and how fascinating it is to compare examples of the same terroir made by different hands. Of course, brooklynguy’s examples involved comparisons between some of Burgundy’s greatest winemakers, which makes the experience exponentially more enjoyable. My Space Travel is Boring example is like tasting a Volnay Clos des Chênes from Patriarche Père et Fils and then tasting one from Michel Lafarge. You’d never know the greatness of the vineyard by drinking only the former.


Do Bianchi said...

I've never understood the whole Modest Mouse thing either...

Blonde Redhead is more my speed...

spume said...

Older Modest Mouse can be quite enjoyable, but anything after The Moon and Antarctica is a mystery to me.

I like the Sun Kil Moon version.

Maybe Animal Collective would benefit from some reinterpretation? I don't get their stuff at all.

- wolfgang

Do Bianchi said...

I've been trying to wrap my mind around Animal Collective myself (on the urgings of Franco's daughter). Unsuccessfully...

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