This is the first installment of Cover Up!, something we hope will become a regular feature here at TWJ, where we examine covers that — albeit debatably — surpass the original.
The first album I ever bought, consciously thinking it was an Important Album, was Peter Gabriel’s Us (1992). It was also the second or third CD I’d ever owned, which meant that I was still geeked on just how clean and full everything sounded. Anything on CD impressed me at that point. (I’m looking at you, Michael Bolton’s Time, Love & Tenderness.) Two decades later, Us still sounds as clean as it sounds quietly operatic. And while I went into Us hoping for another single like “Sledgehammer” or “Big Time,” I got a lot more. It’s a denser, far less political and accessible album than So, but it’s also more ambitious and rewarding upon each listen.
The opening track “Come Talk to Me” is brash and bold by equal measure: an epic bombast of bagpipes followed by Gabriel’s gravelly vocals: “The wretched desert takes its form / the jackal proud and tight / In search of you, I feel my way / Through the slowest heaving night.” To say it’s stirring is to understate the obvious. Every filmmaker who never used this as the opening song is a sucker. The track is hell and gone from “Sledgehammer,” but it was mind-blowing to the 15-year-old version of me. It’s as “swirling, curling” as the lyrics themselves—a dizzyingly poetic song that underscores just how oblique Gabriel’s lyrics can be, all the while landing very real, very emotional punches. I used to listen to this song at night, eyes closed, imagining a bleached aerial shot of sand, cacti, and nothing.
Enter Bon Iver.
How Justin Vernon manages to distill “Come Talk to Me” into something better than what Gabriel did is confounding. His lilting voice somehow perfectly captures the desperation that I never heard in the original. It’s pleading and plaintive. The propulsive energy is gone, but the song is somehow purer. The precision of Vernon’s opening is gorgeous — a series of banjos that gradually escalate into something immediate and raw. The echoed vocal tracks resonate with me on a level that allows me to appreciate the original while mourning it at the same time. Bon Iver’s version grows second by second, slowly becoming a superior version in every way. When Vernon asks “Can you show me how you feel now?”, you can almost hear the pain behind the question and, for the first time, I hope someone will answer.
I’m not a morning person. At all.
It’s hard for me to fall asleep and it’s hard for me to wake up. What happens in between those two moments, however, pretty much encapsulates the gauzy meanderings of Kurt Vile’s Wakin On A Pretty Daze (Matador Records). Vile’s latest is a winsome, deceptively breezy album that speaks to neither sleeping nor waking, but to waking up with new ideas, revelations, and perspectives about yourself. It’s the sound of Vile mentally working out his life while he’s dead asleep—his brain slowly processing the past and coming to terms with everything.
If that sounds like hyperbole, it’s not. This is already firmly in my Top 10 of 2013.
The opening track “Wakin on a Pretty Day” immediately has this warm, laconic attitude (“Don’t worry about a thing” pervades the entirety of Daze). The sheer fact that the title track is thisclose to being spelled the same as the album speaks to its ironic laziness. The last time I heard something as effortlessly timeless was Tom Petty’s 1994 Wildflowers, but this isn’t to say Vile’s new album is the second incarnation of Petty’s bright acoustics. It simply sounds like it could’ve emerged from the future or the past. Daze also sounds as fully formed as it is shapeless. There’s elasticity to Vile’s chord progressions that suggest you might not hear the same exact song when you next hear the album.
From the start, Vile sounds as though he’s laboring through the lyrics—not quite here, not quite there. It’s as if it’s hard for him to muster the energy to finish the nine-minute opening track, but that’s what makes it so compelling. He’s as bemused as he is disaffected: “Phone ringing off the shelf/ I guess somebody has something they really wanna prove to us today.” He seems more concerned with “what kind of wisecrack I’m gonna drop along the way” and this speaks to the album. There’s no urgency, there’s no plan, there’s nothing to prove to anyone. It’s beautiful in its own dingy, barely-awake way.
There’s an undercurrent to Waking On A Pretty Daze that finds Vile gaining insight into his own mortality. The phrase “dark days” appears so many times —“Snowflakes Are Dancing”; “Pure Pain,” etc.— that it’s clear Vile’s been through something deeply unsettling. “Shame Chamber” is a particular standout to this end (“Everyone is saying I should probably give up / And, hey, I wouldn’t wanna waste no time / But I couldn’t look myself in the mirror / Then again, why would I? / It’s just another day in the shame chamber / Living life to the lowest power”). He’s been staring into the abyss but the album finds him, gradually, becoming okay with the “shame chamber” of life.
“KV Crimes” is as deliberate and straightforward as the album gets, which isn’t saying a lot. It even starts a half-second late, finding us in the middle of its first jangly guitar licks. It’s also uncertain what crimes Vile has committed, but he’s “ready to claim what’s mine rightfully” — which he does — all the while imparting such advice as: “You better get over this one with a load on.” It’s such a slippery tune with purposefully unpredictable guitar solos that it’s over before you figure out what crimes he’s trying to acquit himself of.
He stretches words well beyond their syllables (“daydreaming,” “overcome,” and “dejected” each melt into the next verse) but it’s somehow fitting. Everything about the album comes across as a morphine drip where the way the lyrics are presented is less important than simply having said them.
“We All Talk” starts off like a clogged sink. There is a brief, impenetrable series of synth beats, but then it pulls you right down into it seconds later. (“Yeah, I’m going, I’m going, I’m gone” is pretty appropriate.) The album’s two purely acoustic tracks (“Pure Pain” and “Too Hard”) couldn’t be more different. The former shifts directions so many times that you almost feel the title’s message, while the latter is something like a soliloquy. “Never Run Away,” a phrase he repeats over and over, speaks to either his confidence, or a deep-seated fear he intends to pass off as confidence. It’s an ode to love that also doubles as a song about insecurities over what you hold most dear.
The album’s closer, “Goldtone,” recalls “Ghost Town” from his previous effort, Smoke Ring for My Halo, in which he insisted: “I think I’m never gonna leave my couch again / ‘Cause when I’m out, I’m only in my mind.” Apparently, he’s left the couch since then, because there’s a distinct sense of penitence in it. “I might be adrift / But I’m still alert / Concentrating my hurt into a goldtone / Golden tones” says it all.
Daze isn’t immediately accessible, but that’s the point. It’s about distance, uncertainty, and allowing Vile to process these thoughts at his own pace. What seems so vivid, clear, and tangible in your dreams quickly becomes faded, illogical, and disconnected when “waking up on a pretty day.” Dreams evaporate, and that’s exactly how Wakin on a Pretty Daze reveals itself: it’s the sound of dreams whose slippery details are hard to recall, but which you desperately cling to before they vanish entirely.
It’s been a few weeks since I posted about Brooklyn-based band Haerts and their song “Wings,” and my love for the song hasn’t faded one bit. I’ve been putting it on mixes for people I know, blaring it on long drives and repeating it in my headphones while at work. There’s something about “Wings” that saddens and uplifts me at the same time, akin to the feeling of breaking free of one’s routine but still longing for that sense of familiarity, of belonging. The child’s perspective in this new, official video for the song allows the viewer to get a look at some powerful moments and then soar above them a few moments later. Perhaps it’s a visual metaphor for the sudden ability to rise above one’s own personal difficulties. I’m sure we’ve all wanted that literal power when times have gotten tough, too. Watch the video above, and stream the song below.
When I think French Pop/Indie tunes, I immediately want me some glitz and uptempo jams, like Phoenix and Yelle. The Dancers should start being included in those wants, because they’re on par and rising. They’ve been the band on small stage at a music festival, the opening act for the Subways, and the subject of swell commentaries about how energetic their live shows. So it’s fitting that their worldwide debut single, “For Something In Your Eyes” is a four minute race through a child’s brain and then back out to a pizza party. Well, there’s probably a more apt description, but I went to a kid’s birthday at Chuck E. Cheese the other day, and it was the most fun I’ve had in good while (I need to get out more?). The new song by The Dancers comes real close.
Watch the lyrical video for “For Something In Your Eyes.”
And listen to a demo of “Seagulls,” a boisterous song about the rats of the beach.
Love is beautiful, love is kind. Love is awfully messy. And when you’re young, everything about love feels life-changing, whether it’s the first kiss, the first break-up, or all the invigorating, frustrating, mushy stuff in between. Perhaps a part of each of us yearns for those early versions of attraction and devotion, before we’d fully formed what we wanted out of our significant other or ourselves in a relationship.
Story Books, some dudes from London and/or Kent, England, examine those realities in the heart-on-sleeve number “Simple Kids” and its accompanying video. Young love, it made us sick – that lyric is repeated over and over, and to me it’s about learning from mistakes made in love rather than allowing them to own who you are and who you’ll be. Some simple but effective guitar and keyboard harmonies lay the groundwork, and the remaining pieces fit together nicely to create the somber, reflective tone that “Simple Kids” delivers. The band’s EP Too Much A Hunter is out April 29. Check out the song and video below!
And as a bonus, here’s the beautiful song “Peregrine” that initially caught critics’ ears, and the moving video for the track.