Velvet Underground

Covered: My Morning Jacket (Special Edition)

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.

Normally, we highlight a specific song for this feature, but this week we are instead celebrating a group’s history of creating fantastic covers.  Over the years, My Morning Jacket has demonstrated an amazing aptitude at covering classics from a variety of genres, from classic rock to metal to pop to R&B.  They have done songs from the likes of The Velvet Underground and Black Sabbath and Lionel Richie, and those are just selections from a couple of shows that I attended.   Each member is a remarkable musician, and Jim James possesses a unique voice that is not only remarkably powerful and emotive, but one that is incredibly versatile as well.  However, no matter how many covers the band may play in a set, each song retains the definitive character of a My Morning Jacket track, which separates them from your typical decent bar band (though they do make for a great wedding band).

One of My Morning Jacket’s most celebrated covers is their take on Eyrkah Badu’s hit “Tyrone”, an early recording that still occasionally pops up in the band’s setlist from time to time.  Instead of analyzing the similarities and differences between the cover and the original, we are merely going to share the video of the time that the two artists joined together to produce a memorably thrilling performance.

Review: Ought – More Than Any Other Day

Rust Is Just Right is not a very large operation, so we may overlook some albums when they are first released.  However, when we eventually catch up and listen to some of these records, we are not going to let the fact that we are ten months behind stop us from writing a review.  The point of all this introductory nonsense is to explain why we are reviewing the debut album from Ought in February of 2015 even though it was released in April of 2014, but the only necessary reason should be that More Than Any Other Day is a fantastic rock record that electrifies the listener with both its furious energy and its thought-provoking experimentalism.

The quickest description that I could use to describe Ought’s sound is “Alec Ounsworth fronting a Fugazi-inspired punk band”, but as you should expect, relying on the reductionist rock-crit namedrop cliche does not paint a full picture.  Tim Beeler’s vocals do mostly recall Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, but that doesn’t cover the spectrum of emotions and contortions that his voice undergoes to match the twists and turns of the music.  For instance, Beeler’s use of dynamics in songs like “Clarity!” bring to mind the theatrics of the Violent Femmes, and that dramatic touch helps create a memorable, slow-burning epic.  He may not have the the most extensive vocal range, but his speak-sing style is effectively used in a song like “Around Again”, as when the band stops and Beeler asks “Why is it you can’t stare into the sun but you can stick your head into a bucket of water and breathe in deep?”

Musically speaking, Ought blurs the line between punk and post-punk, and in the process does an excellent job of making the lives of critics that much more difficult–in other words, it is not as easy to define the distinction as it is with, say, Viet Cong.  Ought often does engage in the full-fledged fury of a more traditional punk band, but they still allow room for experimental sonic elements that makes it hard to pin down to a single genre.  Consider the catchy and frenetic “The Weather Song”, which veers from a jittery verse into frenzied finish that is reminiscent of Wolf Parade (especially with the unusual presence of keyboards), as well as “Forgiveness”, whose use of a violin as a drone adds in a touch of the Velvet Underground to the band’s sound.  I am unsure what is more impressive: the fact that from song to song, it is almost impossible to pin down where Ought will go next, yet the band switches gears in a way that doesn’t give the listener whiplash, or the fact that despite the fact one can spot all these diverse influences rather easily, the band organically incorporates these elements into their sound so well that one cannot pin the “copycat” label on them.

Though only eight songs long, More Than Any Other Day is a dense but rewarding album that reveals itself on multiple listens.  Initially, the most striking element of “Today, More Than Any Other Day” is probably its dramatic tempo and stylistic shifts.  Then you may notice the odd lines of “I am excited to go grocery shopping.  And today, more than any other day, I am prepared to make the decision between 2% and whole milk” that is referenced in many reviews, but you go back and see that it’s not merely a non sequitur but in fact a riff on the previous line that “I am excited to feel the Milk of Human Kindness”, either an allusion to Macbeth or the Caribou album, and now you have to reconsider how all these elements fit together.  The good news is that the album is so great that it is worth the extra effort.