When is a cover song better than the original? Only you can decide. This week Grizzly Bear takes on Hot Chip’s “And I Was A Boy From School.” MAGNET’s Ryan Burleson pulls the pin. Take cover!
To think of electronic music, for me, is to consider its extremes. On one hand, the club and all its fixings: I visualize Daft Punk, Justice or Van She coaxing a dance floor into sweaty oblivion. On the other, intimate and solitary images surface as I recall sitting alone with a Four Tet or Boards Of Canada record. Such music wasn’t made for shared experience, as far as I’m concerned, save for filling mix CDs for friends meant to soundtrack the coming of autumn or winter.
For others, the more poppy (populist works here, too) strain of electronic music—aptly named “electro-pop”—more readily comes to mind. Images of Depeche Mode, New Order, Kraftwerk and more modern purveyors like the Postal Service and LCD Soundsystem inevitably arise, each whose work blurs the line between accessibility and artistry.
U.K. band Hot Chip is no stranger to this tension, having for a decade created some of the most thoughtful, soulful electronic music ever made. As the group has shown time and again, whether through its original output or superb DJ mixes, Hot Chip is interested in songcraft as much as it is experimentation. At one turn, the band will expose listeners to deep, academic techno. At another, the influence of Motown or Northern Soul. Wherever the stylus lands, however, we can generally be assured that the result will be fresh and affecting, causing our heads to nod and feet to move in equal measure.
“And I Was A Boy From School,” the second single from Hot Chip’s breakout album The Warning, captures this unique perspective in spades. Impossibly warm with the sound of analog synths and its trademark vocal harmonies, the song also features organic instrumentation in the form of xylophone and what appears to be a harpsichord, creating a delightful violence between the binary and natural modes of pop-music production.
To a lesser extent, Brooklyn’s Grizzly Bear perpetuates a similar dynamic, using electronics to undergird what is otherwise a lush, haunting folk sound. Sure, the end result is far from club-friendly, but it’s no accident that the quartet is part of the Warp Records roster, home to electronic lions Aphex Twin and Brian Eno, among others. However, Grizzly Bear’s cover of “Boy From School,” recorded live in Australia’s Triple J Studios while on tour last winter, says less about its fascination with electronic music than the compositional aptitude of Hot Chip, which wrote an electronic song that could be broken down into a stark acoustic gem without losing any of its emotive weight. As much as I adore the French, I’m not sure their club bangers could be telegraphed the same way.
Cast your vote wisely.