When is a cover song better than the original? Only you can decide. This week Hercules And Love Affair takes on the xx’s “Shelter.” MAGNET’s Ryan Burleson pulls the pin. Take cover!
The xx and Hercules And Love Affair each present a great example of what a relevant, nurturing educational experience can do for creative types in their formative years. In London, the xx formed at the Elliott School, which has a strong tradition of cultivating the interests of its students in the visual and performing arts. And aside from the xx, it saw Kieran Hebden (Four Tet), William Bevan (Burial), Alexis Taylor (Hot Chip) and the decidedly non-electronic music-making Pierce Brosnan study among its scholarly salons at one point or another. In New York, Hercules founder Andy Butler studied at Sarah Lawrence College, an institution that, before one even clicks on the school’s URL as listed in Google’s search results, lets us know that it “recognizes the creative and performing arts as integral to a liberal arts education.”
Undoubtedly, there were other influences that shaped the acclaimed sounds of the xx and Hercules, but it’s impossible to miss the studied, academic thoughtfulness in each of the bands’ work. (The same could easily be said of the music made by Four Tet, Burial and Hot Chip, not to mention the film endeavors of Sarah Lawrence alumni like J.J. Abrams and Brian De Palma.) Each, in their own way, presents melancholy with a sobriety that is heartwrenching, entwining the perils of lost love with a soundtrack that could move mountains despite its minimalism.
The xx explores its interest in austerity with an incredibly slow, measured gait. On “Shelter,” as on nearly every other song from the band’s eponymous debut, there is no sense of rush, as broken hearts attempt to find solace by speaking their pain in calm, wide-open spaces. Hercules And Love Affair, by nature of the sub-genres it’s most closely linked to (house music and trad disco), speeds things up dramatically. Despite how club-ready its work is, however, real emotive longing still percolates through with a finesse that’s often lacking in four-on-the-floor-styled bangers. Pearly, reverb-heavy guitars may be replaced with arpeggiated synths on Hercules’ version of “Shelter,” but, as The Guardian noted, the cover is still “achingly sad.”
Cast your vote wisely.