Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Duck and Cover

Calum Marsh

Ed Note: Mocking Music welcomes Calum, who we're so excited about having that we'll even forgive his enthusiasm for Xiu Xiu's cover of the Tracy Chapman 'Fast Cars' song and the lack of ducks in this post. We're great people, we really are. Calum will be joining us on a very regular basis in 2006 as we inch toward world domination. Enjoy his cover and remix selection:

The time for year-end 'Best Of' lists has come and gone yet again, but I'm quite certain your thirst for music-related listing is far from quenched. Never fear, people of the indie world, for I have brought sanctuary in numerical order: The Top Ten Most Interesting Indie Covers & Remixes . . . Ever! (Please note that this list is in no way related to the "...ever!" series of compilation albums - it just sounded cool to tack the word on the end).

No, not covers as in those often overlooked pieces of art on the front of your cd, but cover songs. Yep, cover songs. Now before you announce triumphantly that there are no good cover songs, let alone ten, read carefully: That term "cover" has had the worst of associations through musical history - sped-up punk remakes of classic rock hits? Pop takes on 80s favorites? The A-Teens? - and I can definitely understand the bad reputation. Remixes, too, end up with the reputation of being barely-changed rehashes of songs that don't need changing. But that doesn't mean there aren't some fine tracks redone by fine artists, as I intend to highlight in this little list. Though be sure to heed my warning that these aren't necessarily the ten best indie cover songs, but the most interesting - the distiniction needs to be made perfectly clear, since I know how defensive fans can get over classics being taken in a new direction. Moving on...

10. The Subways - Staring At The Sun (TV On The Radio) [Original]
Even though The Subways are most notoriously known for being 2006's new "cool" indie band (read: they had a song on the O.C. and so by extension hipsters don't like them), their take on TV On The Radio's best song is surprisingly good. You'd think a straight-up indie rock group would turn that barber/rock/whatever song into a boring listen, but their relatively reserved spin works more than you might like to admit. Not as good as the original, of course, but I find it creeping its way onto my mix tapes more and more frequently.

9. Diplo - Hollaback Girl (Gwen Stefani) [Download]
I really, really didn't want to like this super-fun version as much as I did, but I can't lie about it. A Diplo cover of any radio song gives hipsters a reasonable excuse to listen to it without feeling like a sell-out, so it's good for something I suppose. It lacks the over-the-top spectacle that made the original such a huge hit, but it seems a whole lot more bearable to listen to casually - though maybe that's partly because I didn't hear this version every single time I turned on the radio all summer - now that shit is bananas (sorry, couldn't resist).

8. Matt Pond PA - In The Aeroplane Over The Sea (Neutral Milk Hotel) [Download] [Original]
Sacriledge! Before you go for my throat on this one, I wanna make it perfectly clear that I'm just as offended by this monstrosity as anyone else. The band decided to make one of the best songs in the world their own, cleaning up the lo-fi sound and charmingly delicate nature and opting instead to make it all clean and 'pretty', exchanging trumpets and singing-saws for, well, guitars and drums. Whoo-hoo, what a hoot - not! (do kids still use that expression?). I've heard good things from reliable people about Matt Pond PA's own work, but an infinite number of excellent works may never clean my mouth of this dirty little cover. Sigh.

7. The Streets - Banquet (Bloc Party) [Download] [Original]
No, that's not a mistake. The Streets, everyone's favorite British rapping storyteller, did a cover of Bloc Party's seminal indie-rock single. Yes, it is as awesome as it sounds. No, it is not what you're expecting. In fact, it's hardly even a cover song in the standard sense: frontman Mike Skinner offers a frenzied apology in the form of a rap song to Jo Whiley for apparently stealing a microphone from her radio show (don't ask, I guess). If it sounds a tad silly, it is, but that's what I adore about The Streets in the first place. Replacing the lyrics for his own antidotal rhymes, Skinner keeps the addictive guitar and intensifies the drums (probably the only Bloc Party cover or remix to ever mess with the already-incredible percussion sections), combining the elements really, really well. It isn't often that a song like this sounds as good as it seems, but here's at least one case to prove that it occasionally can happen.

6. Xiu Xiu - Ceremony (Joy Division) [Download] [Original]
Much like his certifiably hip rendition of Tracy Chapman hit 'Fast Car', Xiu Xiu's take on a Joy Division classic has pissed off a whole lot of fans, both his and Ian Curtis'. I personally enjoy the cover, but as a Xiu Xiu fan I'm likely not part of the majority on this issue. Still, love it or passionately despise it, it's an interesting way of thinking about the track. Ian Curtis' hush, hard-to-hear vocals on the original are replaced by Jamie Stewart's quivering oddity of a voice, which works more often than not. The usual guitars and drums are replaced by, like every other Xiu Xiu track ever recorded, electronic buzzes, smashed, bands, pops, and any other nonsense noise you can think of. For an artist so notoriously challenging, though, the song ends up being incredibly catchy and addictive. Bonus points if you understand the lyrics in either version without looking them up.

5. VitaminsForYou - No Cars Go (Arcade Fire) [Download] [Original]
One of Canada's more obscure indie acts covers Canada's biggest indie darlings, and the result is a fun and quirky cover that, though it doesn't quite live up to the original's caliber, ends up being a really enjoyable track in its own way. You can't really blame Vitamins for falling short of the original's quality, can you? There aren't many bands out there who could rival The Arcade Fire's incredibly talent, and practically nobody would have the nerve to try it. Maybe, then, Vitamins gets extra points for their boldness; being an unknown, even by indie standards, and trying your hand at one of the more beloved songs by one of the more beloved bands is no small feat, and considering the song doesn't crumble under its own daunting weight, I think they deserve a little extra credit.

4. DFA - Deceptacon (Le Tigre) [Download] [Original]
Probably the most noteworthy example of a remix being more popular that its original (though it isn't, to be fair, necessarily any better than the Le Tigre version), 'Decepticon [DFA Remix] is available on an unbelievable number of DFA vinyl singles, remix collections, Le Tigre B-sides, and indie compilations, this song is pretty much everywhere you look, and for a generally good reason. It was sort of obvious, actually: everyone's favorite girl-pop band joins forces with everyone's favorite record label to remix everyone's favorite indie dance hit, the result being, naturally, everyone's favorite remix. Overexposure aside, it's a terrific track that deserves (nearly) all of the praise it receives.

3. Death From Above 1979 - Luno (Bloc Party) [Download] [Original]
Another remix of a Bloc Party song? Excessive though it may seem, I'm perfectly comfortable with it considering the quality of both tracks. Available on Bloc Party's excellent Silent Alarm Remixed album, it's actually not a remix at all; Cover song through and through (Maybe DFA1979 didn't get the memo that it was a remix-only album?), it's one of the strongest reworkings on the compilation and was one of the better songs of last year. I suspect that maybe Death From Above can record a better song than Bloc Party, while the Bloc can write a better tune than Death From Above; assuming this is true, it only makes sense that DFA1979 performing a Bloc-written song makes for a winning combination. Just a thought.

2. The Arcade Fire - Born On A Train (Magnetic Fields) [Download] [Original]
Though never recorded on an album, The Arcade Fire's lovely rendition of Magnetic Fields' already-brilliant 'Born On A Train' can be caught on the KCRW's "Morning Becomes Eclectic" radio show, which typically offers some wonderfully rare goodies from Canada's best indie groups. This particular offering is especially wonderful: replacing Stephin Merritt's trademark dark voice/keyboard noise style for the usual Arcade Fire magic with orchestrial-like richness, the group thankfully delivers all the way, making the reworking very, very close in beauty to its predecessor.

1. !!! - Take Ecstasy With Me (Magnetic Fields) [Download] [Original]
It's odd that a seemingly "classic" indie band such as the Magnetic Fields can be covered so consistently well so often without a bunch of offensively bad rehashes clogging the canon. Maybe we're lucky that reliably high-quality groups like The Arcade Fire and !!! are the ones doing the covers and not lousy no-names looking for a notorious hit by covering much-loved artists (cough, Matt Pond, cough); we're fortunate, because of this, to be graced with covers that instead of trying to best the originals, work surprisingly well in surprising ways. Such is the case for !!!'s simply wonderful take on perhaps the best Fields song, Take Ecstasy With Me: fittingly trippy electronics flesh out the once-consice track into an expansive 8-minute odyssey, rich with innumerable vocal tracks (they blend so bloody well you can't tell if it's two or two hundred voices) and spacey noises. Where Merritt's song evoked the subdued trance of a two-person trip, !!!'s seems infinitely larger, as thought the setting were moved from inside a van to outer space. The result it spectacular and almost magical, in a weird kind of way. A great cover by a great band of a great song by a great band. Wonderful.

And that's about it, really. I'm sure I've missed some great tracks, so feel free to add to the list.

TV On The Radio - Staring At The Sun
Diplo - Hollaback Girl
Neutral Milk Hotel - In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
Matt Pond PA - In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
Streets - Banquet
Bloc Party - Banquet
Xiu Xiu - Ceremony
Joy Division - Ceremony
VitaminsForYou - No Cars Go
The Arcade Fire - No Cars Go
Le Tigre - Deceptacon (DFA Remix)
Le Tigre - Deceptacon
Death From Above 1979 - Luno
Bloc Party - Luno
Arcade Fire - Born on a Train
Magnetic Fields - Born on a Train
!!! - Take Ecstasy With Me
Magnetic Fields - Take Ecstasy With Me


Magnetic Fields - Holiday
Le Tigre - Self-Titled
Vitaminsforyou - I'm Sorry For Ever and For Always
The Streets - A Grand Don't Come For Free
Neutral Milk Hotel - In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
The Arcade Fire - Funeral

Comments on "Duck and Cover"


Blogger Casey Dorrell said ... (18/1/06 6:18 am) : 

Ted Leo's cover of Sinc U Been Gone is not only most kinds of awesome, it's also interesting for it's mash-up inclusion of the Yeah Yeah Yeah's Maps.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (18/1/06 12:49 pm) : 

Awesome post. don't know if you know, but it was down, wouldn't load for me till now.

Doesn't Unicorns cover 50 cent or some shit? Interesting!


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (19/1/06 11:29 pm) : 

I'm a big fan of The Gourds covering Snoop's Gin & Juice


Blogger wwjblog said ... (20/1/06 2:07 pm) : 

matt pond just offended me.


Anonymous misterpete said ... (21/1/06 12:12 am) : 

Tiga has done an interesting cover of Talking Heads' "Burning Down The House" this year, though it's not as good as the original in my humble opinion.

Quite liked The Arctic Monkeys' cover version of Girls Aloud's Love Machine though- although their singing is rubbash.


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