New York

Covered: “Modern Romance”

Covered is a feature where we examine the merits of various cover songs, debating whether or not they capture the spirit and intent of the original, if the cover adds anything new, and whether or not it perhaps surpasses the original.  If we fail on those counts, at the very least we may expose you to different versions of great songs you hadn’t heard before.

Recently we’ve linked to a multiple articles that discuss New York’s place in recent music history, including one that took a look back at the “rock revival” spearheaded by NYC groups at the turn of the century.  While many of the bands that initially tasted a bit of success (or at least caught a couple of weeks of intense buzz) have long since faded in our memories, there are bands that have endured to become respected elder statesmen and albums that have since become modern classics.  One such record is the debut album from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever to Tell.

The album is known for capturing the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s incendiary garage-punk of which only a select few had seen glances with their early EPs and their fiery live performances.  Fever to Tell is filled with all sorts of beautiful noise and anarchic glee, with singer Karen O expertly toeing the line between playfulness and pure sleaze, shattering normal stereotypes about gender and their resultant expectations with lines like “Boy, you just a stupid bitch and girl, you just a no-good dick.”  The band deservedly broke through into the mainstream with the gorgeous ballad “Maps”, which bucked the traditional YYY formula and showed another side to the band, namely one of vulnerability.  But album closer “Modern Romance” takes this shift a step further–after the brash shot of defiance that was “Y Control”, the band retreats with a declaration of existential ennui.  The weary resignation of the song captures the hangover after the raging party that was the rest of the party, and while it is difficult to accept, its placement at the end of the album indicates at least the band recognizes its existence.  The song is built on a monotonous yet hypnotic simple guitar riff (and an expertly deployed sleigh bell), as Karen O laments over the top with the fact that, try as we might, “there is no modern romance.”  On its surface, it may appear depressing, but somehow the band is able in its performance to convey a sort of rebelliousness, that while things as they exist may be awful, there is still the chance at change.

TV on the Radio, whom we praised effusively for their brilliant new album Seeds, recorded a cover of “Modern Romance” from their fellow compatriots in the New York rock-revival scene for their New Health Rock single soon after the release of Fever to Tell.  It’s a solemn performance, and those unfamiliar with the original would have little reason to believe it was a cover, as it’s dressed up in a lot of the production that is a TV on the Radio trademark (namely the gentle electronic drumbeat, the hazy atmospherics, and the various squiggly beeps, which combined with the soulful vocals help capture a lot of the early TVOTR sound).  However, despite the delicate vocal performance, the band doesn’t really capture any of the pathos of the original, and otherwise is unable to do enough to put a personal stamp on the song to answer the question of why record a cover, either than as a tribute of admiration.  It’s a respectable performance, but because of a lack of a perceptible intimate connection with the material it never really rises above an intriguing novelty; in other words, for TVOTR completists it is worth enough to track down the rare EP, but it’s not enough to stand side-by-side with the original.

Over the Weekend (Dec. 1 Edition)

Various fun links to help you recover from the holiday weekend…

It’s that time of year again when all the different music publications begin their tally of the best albums of the year, and while we here at Rust Is Just Right hold out on releasing our list until the next year, that doesn’t mean we won’t share what others have deemed worthy.  Both MOJO and Paste have released their lists, and you’ll find that many of the albums we’ve praised this year have shown up on both countdowns.  If you feel we have been incomplete in our coverage so far, by all means take a look–we’ll be doing so as well to make sure we have covered all the bases.

The War On Drugs are high on both lists, and probably ours as well–we’ll see for certain next year.  Though their concert this Wednesday night might help nudge them up a bit.

Speaking of lists, The Village Voice was compelled to compile a list of the 60 Best Songs Ever Written About New York City.  I’m not sure what was the impetus or the reason why the cutoff was at 60, but frankly we’re just glad that Interpol’s “NYC” and Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train” were fairly close to the top.

Not only is it List Time, it’s also the “Holiday Season.” While Holiday music is generally not the most thrilling genre out there, Los Campesinos! may be the band to avoid that pitfall.  You can hear for yourself, as Pitchfork is streaming their Christmas EP this week.

Noisey talks to two big 90’s bands who are still out there chugging along, posing the same questions to Everclear and Bush–though the interviews were clearly conducted separately, it’s interesting to see their answers side-by-side.  Also, it’s worth reading just to hear about Art Alexakis giving a midterm that day.

Elsewhere on Noisey, Killer Mike discusses his reaction to the grand jury decision in Ferguson in a heartfelt interview.  He’s a busy man these days, not only touring behind the incredible new Run The Jewels album, but also helping to write an Op-Ed on a Supreme Court case being heard today about rap lyrics and the First Amendment.  Billboard has some reporting on the case, including the fact that Eminem lyrics were quoted by Chief Justice Roberts.  Elonis v. United States is potentially a significant opinion for First Amendment caselaw, so it is worth following the arguments.

Catching Up On The Week (Nov. 21 Edition)

Some #longreads and other time-wasters as you prepare for the holiday…

I highly recommend reading this speech from Steve Albini on the state of the music industry.  Albini does a great job of explaining the economics of the old way the record industry used to run and how it has changed with shifting technology, and also how alternatives to the normal practices of the record industry developed.  I still think there are still some issues for artists as the way we consume music evolves, but Albini’s take is certainly worth taking into consideration.

It can be tough for neophytes to wade their way through the early history of punk rock, but the AV Club has provided a handy primer on one of the most important scenes in their Primer on Dischord Records.  Some may have a passing familiarity with Minor Threat and Fugazi, but there was a lot more to the DC scene, and giving mentions to bands like Nation of Ulysses and Q and Not U is definitely worthwhile.

Were you curious about the story behind the song “Footloose”?  No?  Well, read on anyway, because bassist Nathan East provides the story, and he’s worked with everyone.

Stereogum has a list of “26 Essential Songs From The NYC Rock Resurgence”, probably to coincide with the release of the new TV on the Radio album, or maybe just because they felt like it this week.   We’ll link to it because it’s extensive and it has some good songs on it, so why not.