Artists: The Apples In Stereo (covering Neutral Milk Hotel) and Times New Viking (covering Arcade Fire)
Songs: "King Of Carrot Flowers Pt. 3" and "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)"
Album: SCORE! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers! (orig. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea and Funeral, resp.)
Label: Merge Records (of course)
Released: April 7, 2009 (orig. February 10, 1998 and September 14, 2004, resp.)
Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan are in a band named Superchunk, and back in 1989 they founded an independent record label to put out their music. Today, Merge Records is one of the biggest, most influential, and fucking coolest indie record labels in the land. To celebrate their 20th Anniversary last year, they released a compilation of awesome bands recording cover versions of songs from Merge releases over the years. I found this compilation at the library a few weeks back and have listened to most of the songs. A few of them I wasn't familiar with and some are mediocre at best but two, in particular, have stuck with me. That's partly due to the fact that the original songs are superb and remind me of the bands I "discovered" during my initial forays into indie rock back in college, but also partly due to the fact they are just really good, interesting, unique takes on another band's song.
First, we have the quintessential Elephant 6 band, The Apples In Stereo, applying their fuzzed-out, spacey, guitar rock-tronica with pounding drums and high-pitched male vocals to a classic cut from other Elephant 6 band Neutral Milk Hotel's seminal album, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. You don't need me to tell you how good the original is and how it fits into the album. So what happens when it's removed and fed thru The Apples' funky filter? It turns into some kinda crazy, bouncy, singalong song that just slightly modifies the rhythm of the "oh-oh-oh-ohhh-oh" part so that I always get a little thrown off when I do try to sing along. Here's the original song (Part 3 starts @ the 3:38 mark, FYI):
and here's the cover version:
[Update: YouTube User Vartex points out the neat fact that this version is sung by Robert Schneider, who actually recorded the album In The Aeroplane Over The Sea and sang backup vocals on the original version of this song!]
(Bonus! Here's Jeff Mangum playing this song acoustic & solo on an XFM radio session way back in May 1998 when the song was called "Up And Over Again" and there's a section in the middle where he sings "This is the part of the song where I didn't write any lyrics" but for the recorded version he sings "The weight it sits on down and I don't know".)
Second, we have the impressively lo-fi garage-punk trio Times New Viking applying their fuzzed-out, reverberating, aggressively grating yet melodic rock formula to the beauteous and touching and powerful song "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)", the first cut from indie rock superstars Arcade Fire's incredible debut album, Funeral. Seriously, the original is so great; it's arguably the best song from their best record (go ahead and disagree with me, I like to debate). The TNV version manages to capture a lot of the emotional power and distill it thru their lo-fi filter, yielding a slightly simpler (i.e. less instrumentation) sound that still retains much of the raw, heartfelt yearning in the male/female voices. You can hear a beautifully soft piano part behind all of the distorted guitar and vocals, too. Even f you don't typically enjoy this kind of scuzzy, garage-rock shite, give it a good listen or two straigh thru and tell me you can't hear something surprisingly pretty underneath it all. Here's the original song:
and here's the cover version:
(While you're here, you should check out my fave song "No Time, No Hope" from TNV's latest album, Born Again Revisited. Really good.)