When is a cover song better than the original? Only you can decide. This week Memoryhouse takes on Grizzly Bear’s “Foreground.” MAGNET’s Ryan Burleson pulls the pin. Take cover!
I first learned of Toronto’s Memoryhouse in an early-morning scroll through Pitchfork. Whether the publication’s heady reviews perturb you or not, its writers can’t be faulted for the consistency with which they report on unknown talent, and on the day I read the “Rising” piece on the young duo, newswriter Tom Breihan was firing on all cylinders. Before I’d even heard them, I had a feeling I’d be hooked. Within sentences, I’d discovered that the band name was, indeed, a reference to the album Memoryhouse by the great modern-classical composer Max Richter (one of my favorites), and that somehow Grizzly Bear (also one of my favorites) would come up later in Breihan’s interview with chief songwriter Evan Abeele. My hopes intensified as I also read of Abeele’s love of My Bloody Valentine and his sampling of a Jon Brion composition from Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind on Memoryhouse’s freely released EP, The Years. By the end of the brief interview, I felt as if I had found a kindred spirit in Abeele. And, I still hadn’t heard a second of Memoryhouse’s work.
Then I heard “Lately (Deuxième),” “Sleep Patterns” and “Bonfire,” three of four songs on The Years, and though not immediately drenched in the euphoria I’d prepared myself for, I was (and am) definitely on-board with Memoryhouse’s ambition and aesthetic. The calm, sophisticated hypnotism of the EP entails an underlying seriousness of craft, a deliberateness further affirmed when I interviewed Abeele recently for Consequence Of Sound. Yes, to some extent, it’s tempting to mark him and singer Denise Nouvion as chillwave’s latest torchbearers, but that classification ultimately falls apart when their work sits with you for a few afternoons, each listen making their classic visual, literary and musical influences more present in the process. And, as if I needed more convincing that there’s more to Memoryhouse than a fascination with Kevin Shields, the Pitchfork piece pointed me to Abeele and Nouvion’s elegant cover of “Foreground” by Grizzly Bear, which, for me, nearly tops the original, a feat I didn’t even think possible considering my glowing adoration for the song.
Fundamentally, Memoryhouse’s “Foreground” differs only slightly from the original, its minimal scale likely necessitated by a non-existent recording budget. (The Years was recorded in Abeele’s bedroom.) Instead of a softly played piano, the primary melody is performed on a finger-picked acoustic guitar, while a washy synth replaces Nico Muhly’s stunning string arrangement and Abeele’s background vocal stands in for the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. Oh, and I believe Nouvion sings “jelly bite” instead of “jetty fight” in the third verse, an endearing blunder likely caused by a simple misinterpretation of the live YouTube clip she and Abeele sourced long before Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest was released. Or perhaps it was a cute joke. Regardless, the cover showcases the duo’s reverence for the power of the original at the same time it expands our conception of how good Memoryhouse might ultimately be. Obviously, I’m excited to find out.
Cast your vote wisely.