Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cover Your Tracks: Iron & Wine, "Peng! 33"

Stereolab's music, since they plugged in the early 90s, has covered a lot of sonic territory. A sound experiment (hence their name) more than a song or singing or lyrics band, they have amassed a huge body of noisy but melodic drones, spacy vintage keyboard pop, and electric hipster elevator music, all with a consistently high level of quality. Critics may complain that all their songs all sound alike, but it's a great sound that bears repeating. Lyrically, they eschew the personal or narrative; with lots of la-la-la cooing vocals, as often as not sung in French (and discussing Marxism), their songs seem to employ the human voice more as another instrument than as a conveyor of thoughts, and so it's rare to have an emotional connection to Stereolab's cool robotic heart.

This Stereolab cover, then, is remarkable for the way it strips away the bouncy, nonchalant veneer of the original and transforms the tone of the lyrics into a sentimental and tender song of hope. Iron & Wine's Sam Beam writes songs which are pretty much the opposite of Stereolab: full of cinematic narratives and characters painted in lyrical detail, they tell stories and pull heartstrings. Beam, though, has recorded a number of unexpected and, in my opinion, wildly original covers, especially the Four Tops' "It's The Same Old Song", New Order's "Love Vigilantes", and the Postal Service's "Such Great Heights"—apparently this dude can squeeze the sentimental juice out of just about anything. Maybe Stereolab aren't robots after all..

Iron & Wine cover Stereolab's "Peng! 33":

1 comment:

  1. I have tried to get into iron & wine but he always ends up frustrating me because I constantly want to yell "WOULD YOU PLEASE SPEAK LOUDER!" - I feel like the guy is always whispering and one of those people that's afraid of his own shadow...and depressing even when he's not trying to be, like in the 'such great heights' cover.

    sorry - I'm going to have to pass on this one.