Song 56: Wye Oak, “Strangers” (2011)

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What do you want in a cover? I remember debating this topic with a friend who claimed that a cover can still be a cover if the artist changes the melody and chords, leaving only the lyrics. I don’t mean to sound overly stubborn or conservative about this, but: no. Maybe it’s because I place too much emphasis on the music compared to the lyrics, but to me, a song is part melody, part chords, part words. You lose one part, you lose the song.

Wye Oak’s version of the Kinks’ “Strangers” is exactly what I want in a cover: an amplification (in this case, literally) of a song’s strengths, an extrapolation of what the original artist intended while adding new elements. Singer-guitarist Jenn Wasnick, drummer-keyboardist (you read that right) Andy Stack and Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg absolutely nail the original song’s strengths, from that beautiful melody (which Wasnick uses for a glorious guitar solo) to the off-kilter time signature. They turn an intimate acoustic song into an electric epic without losing a thing.

This song was recorded for the A.V. Club’s “Undercover” series, in which band plays in the website’s offices. That a few people can produce this kind of performance by just showing up in a room is something that I find completely amazing. It’s why I keep listening to music.

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