Lately I've been listening to a lot of covers of Magnetic Fields songs. I'm assuming we're all familiar with the Peter Gabriel and Ben Gibbard and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and The Arcade Fire songs and the Verfrumdungseffekt comp, and while I certainly agree that all of those songs are wonderful renditions of the originals, I feel like there are so many cover versions that go unheard. So, I figured I'd take the time here to point out some covers that I love with which you, my gentle readers, might be unfamiliar.
1. The Fields of Magnetic - Give Me Back My Dreams
I am well-known for touting the original version of this song as amongst my favorite songs by Mr. Merritt, so I am obviously protective of it. What's strange about this cover is that it mostly disregards the original. The raging cello offers a sense of urgency throughout the entire song that directly juxtaposes with The 6ths' more somber version. The vocals, while definitely following the same melody, are far more angry as well, bringing wholly different associations to the song. Plus, the singer's accent is ridiculously charming (can we talk about the way he pronounces "just" for a couple hours?). There is a cover of "Asleep and Dreaming" on the same page, and it's also good, but for me, The 6ths song will always be the winner.
2. Zoe Woodbury-High - No One Will Ever Love You
The vocals on this version might be slightly too twee for some folk, particularly when coupled with the ukulele, but goddamn it if those harmonies and that harp don't just do it for me. The usage of a harp on this song is about as inspired a choice as I can imagine and, like the previous cover, turns this song into something else entirely. It is a gentler version that still packs the punch it is supposed to pack.
3. Matt Gurley - Lonely Days
Firstly, this is such an inspired song choice! I have heard only scant few covers of Future Bible Heroes songs and it's refreshing that this is a good one that is also well-done (meaning it's not just some schlub with a webcam and a ukulele). I appreciate the vocal effects very much and think this functions as an excellent stripped-down showcasing of this wonderful song.
4. Portastatic - You Love to Fail
Perhaps the most popular of all the songs I'll post today, I just can't resist sharing it some more. This may very well be my favorite cover of a Magnetic Fields song ever. There are a myriad strange background doo-dad noises that find the perfect balance of highlighting the song's melody and adding interesting layers of their own. Plus, Mac's voice is just so pretty here!
5. Sarah Elizabeth - I Shatter
By far the most underproduced song I'll post today, this song still functions as a really pretty version of an already beautiful song. "I Shatter" has long been my favorite of any of the 69 Love Songs and covers of it are, sadly, scarce. Luckily, I like this one a whole lot. I think this girl's chord choices are very interesting and she manages to maintain the original's manic nature without ever competing with Sam Davol's excellent cello work. I also quite enjoy the vocal lilting she does at the end, which is entirely her own addition to the song.
6. Br'er - Irma
I'm 100% sure I posted about this song when it initially was released, but goddamn it, it deserves to be discussed some more because it's really, really good. The instrumentation is entirely different than the stripped-down, chamber-poppy production of the original and is far more experimental. Yet, the most charming aspect of "Irma," has and always will be its melody, and Br'er recognizes this fact by keeping it entirely intact.
I'd love to hear some more interesting covers of Stephin Merritt songs, so feel free to send me some if you know of any.
Monday, January 28, 2013
Thursday, January 24, 2013
Above is a video of Stephin Merritt playing the Beck song "Old Shanghai" about which I talked in the previous post. Seeing the video is a really enjoyable experience for me; it reminds me of the Strange Powers documentary, and how meaningful the scenes where Stephin and Claudia recorded i were to me. Seeing the music get made feels like a rare privilege. So, yeah, watch the video.
You can learn about Mr. Merritt's toilet paper affinities here.
I've been listening to Holiday a lot lately, and of course it's no news that it's a remarkable album. But any time I spend away from it seems to make me forget exactly how remarkable it really is. Every sound on the album is so curious to me, I'm unsure of 99% of their origins and yet it never feels inaccessible. The synthlines are as hooky and catchy as any Mr. Merritt has ever written and the lyrics as melancholy and interesting; it's a shame that this album isn't more heavily lauded as one of the best of the 90's. All bias aside, I think it's extraordinary. Someone should write one of those 33 1/3 books about it. Ahem.