Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Cover Your Tracks: J Mascis, "Circle"

Recently some friends and I were having cocktails and huddling around an iPod, listening to nostalgic good-bad late 80s music. Edie Brickell came up, naturally, as anyone within earshot of a radio in 1989 would have had a hard time avoiding "What I Am". None of us had Shooting Rubberbands At The Stars on an iPod, but not because we're too cool or anything; I probably still have the cassette in a box somewhere. One tipsy late-night impulse download later (one wonders how much more revenue iTunes generates after sundown on weekends), we were groovin' to the New Bohemians, and the whole album made us feel like we were back in baggy sweaters and turtlenecks. Edie Brickell epitomized the more mainstream end of late 80s college rock: bands who wanted to make newish music but who loved their parents' record collections. So along with 10,000 Maniacs, Tracy Chapman, and the Indigo Girls, they crafted folksy rock for college students in turtlenecks and baggy sweaters. They also had hits on the radio, something similar-minded but more obscurantist, experimental bands like R.E.M. would do after to signing to major labels and ditching the experimental obscurantism.

"Circle" is not my favorite Edie Brickell song; I like "Nothing" and "Little Miss S." better. But whenever I throw on Edie Brickell (which happens approximately once a decade now), I enjoy the whole album, including the succinct "Circle", if only because this bouncy, tuneful little record did sound fresh at the time—if you don't believe me, check out the Top 40 hits from 1989 (Richard Marx, anyone?).

I don't know if Dinosaur Jr frontman J Mascis was listening to Edie Brickell at the time, but he's long had a penchant for unexpected covers (most famously, the Cure's "Just Like Heaven" and Peter Frampton's "Show Me The Way"). Count this cover among those estimable remakes; Mascis wrings remorse and regret out of the lyrics, which seem like they would fit comfortably on more than half of his own catalogue of weepers. This version is from a recent Daytrotter session, recorded while Mascis is on tour in support of his crystalline new folk record, "Several Shades of Why".

J Mascis covers Edie Brickell + New Bohemians' "Circle":

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