When is a cover song better than the original? Only you can decide. This week Jay Reatard takes on Deerhunter’s “Fluorescent Grey.” MAGNET’s Ryan Burleson pulls the pin. Take cover!
Details regarding how and when the late great Jay Reatard and “ambient punks” Deerhunter became associated are sparse, but on the surface, it’s clear why they were inclined to cover each other. Reared in the lo-fi punk scenes of Memphis and Atlanta, respectively, Reatard and Deerhunter made a name for themselves in the second half of the aughts by experimenting with pop music in wildly unconventional ways. For Reatard, this meant channeling his influences through a garage- and noise-punk prism, exhibiting a brashness in his live sets that nearly deflected from the sophistication of his recorded work (especially in later years). For Deerhunter, drone, shoegaze, post-punk and even Motown have informed a sound that can range from astronomically billowing to stoic and reserved. The means were different, but the end shared: Respect pop music, but dismantle it.
And dismantle they did (and continue to do, in the case of Deerhunter) at an almost constant clip. Reatard (Jimmy Lee Lindsey Jr.) and Deerhunter have collectively released a mind-blowing amount of music over the past decade, tweaking conventions at every chance given under these names and several others. (Reatard’s litany of side projects, in particular, deserve a profile all its own.) In 2008, this shared ambition and mutual admiration came to a head when Reatard invited Deerhunter to cover one of his songs, “Oh, It’s Such A Shame,” as part of a seven-inch series curated by Reatard’s new label, Matador. On the flip side, Reatard would cover a Deerhunter track, “Fluorescent Grey,” which saw him largely staying true to the song’s original structure. Only, instead of mimicking the cascading wall of sound in the coda, Reatard opted for an acoustic guitar, giving the cover a nice dissonance that wasn’t as prominent in the less obtuse original.
Cast your vote wisely.