Former Red House Painters leader Mark Kozelek is one of rock’s great sentimentalists—a man capable of crooning the line “That’s when friends were nice/And to think of them just makes you feel nice.” Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock, by contrast, is one of rock’s great neurotic basket cases. “It’s been agreed the whole world stinks,” he once yelped, “so no one’s taking showers anymore.” You’d never expect the twain to meet. But when Kozelek saw Brock’s band playing a show with the Shins a couple of years ago, he found himself oddly stirred by the man’s demented, rapid-fire poetry—so much so that he recorded Tiny Cities, an entire album of Modest Mouse covers. On its face, the idea might seem almost hopeless, akin to, say, Mark Rothko’s reinterpreting the w orks of Jackson Pollock. But Kozelek has been down this artistic road before: In 2001, the San Francisco–based singer/guitarist released What’s Next to the Moon, a surprisingly sweet collection of Bon Scott–era AC/DC songs treated as delicate acoustic ballads. The MO is pretty much the same on Tiny Cities, his second album under the moniker Sun Kil Moon. Singing mournfully over a deeply resonant acoustic, with occasional flourishes from an electric guitar or a string section, Kozelek subdues Brock’s cranky, foot-stomping songs into gentle, brooding meditations. “Ocean Breathes Salty,” for instance, which on Modest Mouse’s Good News for People Who Like Bad News was all crashing cymbals and wigged-out falsetto, is here turned into a hauntingly spare thing: just Kozelek’s vocals and a slowly chiming guitar figure that ever so faintly echoes the original’s shrill keyboard refrain. But more impressive is the way Kozelek turns Brock’s semipsychotic lines into pensive reflections. “Man, shot to the moon/I read a paperback and want to come home soon/I’m shot to the moon/Been there half an hour I want to come home soon,” he sings on “Space Travel Is Boring.” In the original, the lines are pure dada, but Kozelek’s world-broken delivery lends them new poignancy. The same goes for “Neverending Math Equation,” which, freed from its original anarchic din, becomes Tiny Cities’ melodic highlight. “I’m the same as I was when I was 6 years old/And oh my God, I feel so damn old/I don’t really feel anything,” Kozelek sings without any trace of irony, making Brock’s antic nonsense seem almost profound. It could all be a big, hipstery joke, except Kozelek never once laughs. And that’s the key to Tiny Cities’ peculiar success: It’s a record that makes humorlessness a joy to hear. —Michael Crowley