Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Of all the songs inextricably linked to moments in movies, few pairings initially appear more incongruous than the closing minutes of Real Genius that follow Lazlo driving away in his mobile home after a house has exploded due to a space laser and a giant tin of Jiffy Pop. As Roland Orzbal sings about hating “this indecision / married with a lack of vision,” neighborhood children fill wagons with edible detritus and Val Kilmer laughs in slow motion, biting popcorn snowflakes out of the air.

Though illogical, the scene is far more successful than the song’s on-the-face-of-it-more-fitting incarnation as a spooky Lorde cover on the soundtrack for the second installation of The Hunger Games. The reason children playing in popcorn works better than children forced to kill children is simple: the song isn’t about the fact that “everybody wants to rule the world” so much as it is about the more heartening notion that “when they do / I’ll be right behind you” and that we’ll be “holding hands as the walls come tumbling down.”
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A couple nights ago, the Mountain Goats played an intimate show at a NYC winery to to celebrate the release of their pro wrestling-themed album Beat the Champ (which is way better than that description might imply). They threw a couple covers into the mix, one of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Shot in the Dark,” which they released on a 7″ last year, and a new solo take on the Grateful Dead‘s “St. Stephen.” Continue reading »

Listening to Wallflower, Diana Krall’s new covers record, a question comes to mind:

Who’s the intended audience for this?

It’s a strange beast of an album, in which the jazz star (is she even really a jazz artist these days?) takes some of the most obvious choices from the pop/rock cannon and goes full lounge singer on them.

A lot of the blame for this album can probably be tossed onto producer David Foster (whose daughters, weirdly enough, currently have a mockumentary-type show on VH1). The whole album is drenched in dreamy strings, gentle (or non-existent) percussion, and whimsical piano. Not that the production on any one song ruins the whole thing, but the arrangements all seem to be exactly the same. If these songs weren’t currently playing in every dentist office in the country at this exact moment, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.
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Haunting.

What is “An overused word to describe a song”, Alex?

To be fair, there are some songs that can only be described as “haunting”.  For example, “Laurie (Strange Things Happen) by Dickey Lee.  This is the song where a guy meets a girl, Laurie, at a dance on her birthday.  They hit it off, he walks her home and gives her his sweater to wear because it’s a little chilly.  When they get to her house, he kisses her goodnight (Yes!) and starts to head back home only to realize that he forgot his sweater.  He goes back and her dad answers and tells the guy that Laurie “died a year ago today”. Continue reading »

Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.

 

Kings are not born. They are made by artificial hallucination. – George Bernard Shaw

The first time I heard Kings of Leon, I wondered if I hadn’t dreamed them into being. A quartet of charming Southern gentlemen playing the kind of bluesy rock that I really needed to help me get through the aha shake and heartbreak of my early twenties? It couldn’t possibly be real.

Luckily for the rest of humanity, this was so much more than an artificial fever dream trapped in my pop-culture-addled mind. In the decade since I discovered them, I’ve done some roaming around, but no one fills the places I can’t reach like Kings of Leon.
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#1 Dads, a musical project of Big Scary frontman Tom Iansek, describes their music as “music your dad is into.” Well, Iansek must be hanging out with a lot of hip father figures, because this stunning rendition of FKA twigs “Two Weeks” is not something you would pull out of just any dad’s record collection. Continue reading »

Death has a way of flattening out a life into a simple narrative that can be approximated by a few lines of obituary newsprint. This is especially true for the sort of death that is the result of life-long addiction and tendencies toward self-destruction. In the case of Jason Molina, a quintessentially midwestern artist who died in 2013 of complications due to alcoholism, the teleological power of death is such that it is easy to hear his entire catalogue as a sort of suicide note.  There is, for example, a tidy simplicity to understanding the apocalyptic seven minutes of  “Farewell Transmission,” arguably his most important sonic document, as a prophetic and self-fulfilling Book of Revelations.

However, like most of Molina’s work with Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co., “Farewell Transmission” doesn’t prophesize a ghost-filled world at the brink of demise so much as it builds that world as a fictional landscape, one filled with endless deserts and a predatory midnight that we all must actually live in. Set in the moments wherein “the big star is falling,” the song is not panicked at the prospect of the end of things so much as it grimly satisfied by its final arrival and the fact that we made it this far. Even as the end arrives, the song’s images of impending doom are undercut by a repeated exhortation for all us to “come on, let’s try.” The song’s most obvious prediction of death is immediately tempered: “I will be gone / but not forever.”
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In recognition and support of the world’s first Piano Day, Portland-based composer Keith Kenniff releases a stunningly beautiful rendition of Michael Nyman‘s “Molly.”

Piano Day – the first holiday to celebrate the instrument – is the initiative of highly acclaimed German composer Nils Frahm, who has declared the 88th day of the year to be a worldwide celebration of our favorite 88-key instrument. This 29th of March marked the first celebration in what will hopefully be a long history of piano-related festivities.

With several musicians having contributed to celebrating the holiday’s premiere (among them esteemed neo-classical composers such as Ólafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm and Lucy Claire), Kenniff follows in their steps, pitching in with a soothing piano cover of Nyman’s “Molly” – taken from the sublime score of Michael Winterbottom’s Wonderland (1999).

Operating under the post-classical minimalist moniker Goldmund, the Berklee College of Music honors graduate transforms the already gentle piece into a serene and touching instrumental experience. By far the most haunting piece I’ll hear all week, Goldmund’s “Molly” drips with bittersweet melancholy pangs and a quiet calm reminiscent of Sigur Rós, Efterklang, and a dash of Yann Tiersen.

While mildly disappointed to have missed the first celebration, I definitely know what date I’ll be looking forward to in 2016.

Happy (somewhat belated) Piano Day, folks. Be sure to mark your calendars for March 29th of next year, and in the meantime – enjoy Goldmund’s breathtaking cover down below.

Listen to Keith Kenniff here. Also, visit pianoday.org to learn more about the holiday. 

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