cool hand bak

Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Now I'm A Believer

I'm aware that the title of this post falls on the cheesy side of the fence, with a thud. I'm also aware that I'm more than a month late on this, but I still want to say a few words about the compilation that came with The Believer 2005 Music Issue, released way back in June. I picked up the magazine for the Carrie Brownstein interviewing Karen O feature, but I also happen to be a sucker for concepts like the one behind this disc: recent artists covering other (mostly) recent artists. I mean, I resent the notion that a song need be 30 years old before it can be reworked and claimed by a new artist. In my opinion, there's not enough of this sort of cross-pollination, switching and swapping of songs, today.

The results in this case are an interesting blend of straight-ahead indie pop and folk; not everything works, but the efforts are far from wasted. What's best about the comp is that the standouts don't come from the expected places. In fact, the only thing I suspected going in that turned out to be true is that Devendra Banhart's cover of Antony & The Johnsons' "Fistful Of Love" (already one of the best songs of recent memory) is the best thing here. Other than that, I found myself consistently pleasantly surprised.

Things start off smoothly: it's nice enough to hear Joanna Newsom's "Bridges & Balloons" in Colin Meloy's voice, but The Decemberists' version of the song certainly doesn't improve on the original. Ditto Spoon's take on Yo La Tengo's "Decora" and The Mountain Goats' read of The Silver Jews' "Pet Politics". Ultimately, CocoRosie's cover of Damien Jurado's "Ohio" emerges as the best thing about the first third of the disc. The middle of the comp sags beneath the oh-so-soft and slow whispers of Josephine Foster, Cynthia Mason and Espers, but things pick up again around Vetiver's bar-room sing-along cover of Michael Hurley's "Be Kind To Me". The rest of the disc doesn't squander the momentum earned there.

So, now's a perfect time for me to justify my claim that the highlights don't come from (too) familiar faces. I'll do my best:

San Serac - "Late Blues"

This is fantastic! This is what it's all about. All of these hot-shit name artists, and this guy I'd never heard of delivers the biggest surprise of the set. It's a cover of a very recent song by Ida, who also took part in this project. Ida's original was very slow, very smoky, but also stunning, very much in tune with what they do best. But where the original sounded a mournful tone at the start of something serious, San Serac turns it into a danceable, vaguely 80s piano-based manifesto. The sax breaks simmer and the drums hit hard and sensual, but it's San Serac's (Leonard) Cohen-at-a-club voice that keeps me coming back for more. I definitely have to track down this man's albums.

Visit San Serac at his online abode.

Jim Guthrie - "Nighttime/Anytime (It's Alright)"

I was feeling both The Constantines' Shine A Light and Jim Guthrie's Now, More Than Ever, but nothing on either of them grabbed me like this. Jim Guthrie takes The Constantines' song and turns it into a shuffling, bluesy confession of vulnerability. The violins that open the song are a great touch, the steady, repetitive groove really grounds the song in an engaging way and you can actually hear the words, something I've not quite managed with the original. Jim Guthrie's understated vocal is a major plus: just listen to the way he sings the "dead pigeons staring up at me" line. This makes me look forward to his next, more than ever.

Home is where the rock is, and it's also where you'll find Jim Guthrie online.

I don't know whether or not you can still pick up the June/July issue of The Believer at your local newsstand, but if you can I'd recommend splurging for it. If not, feel free to read more about the issue at The Believer's website. Otherwise, join me in holding my breath in hopes that they do something similar for the 2006 music issue.

Click Here