Wye Oak - Strangers/Mother [7-inch] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Wye Oak

Strangers/Mother [7-inch] (2011)

Merge Records

As part of the Onion/AV Club's "AV UnderCover" series, Baltimore's Wye Oak chose two fairly left field covers. Although they radically changed the exterior of the songs, they keep the internal DNA in tact, exhibiting their skill as well as the strength of the underlying material.

The stronger of the two is the group's cover of Danzig's "Mother." While the gut reaction in covering the song would be to rev it up even further, slamming the riffs twice as hard, Wye Oak make the wise choice to in lieu of focusing on the song's massive rumble, highlight the underlying gloom that looms in the background of the original. They slow the tune down to a dirge, stripping away all the unnecessary elements of the already sparse song, until all that is left is vocalist Jenn Wasner's big, deep voice and skittering instrumentation provided by percussionist Andy Stack.

As Wasner's wails draw out the syllables, her voice sinks into the murk of the instrumentation and the entire song seems to lurk in the darkness while in plain sight, which seems to both reference Danzig's latter day acoustic tracks and the pagan hints found in Samhain III. The approach shows just how powerful Wasner is as a vocalist, in that she incorporates Danzig's Lanza-ish howl without relying on the vocal cliches of the genre, and instead, focuses on the stomach shaking thickness that gives these types of tunes such a foreboding atmosphere. Fantastic.

The flipside, a cover of the Kinks' "Strangers," is less a reworking of the original, but still the group adds their own mark to the tune. Where the original was a folk song that clopped along with a melancholy, but upbeat cadence, Wye Oak again pull back on the reigns. With a clipped pace, the song develops an almost celtic edge, and as it builds, with its open chords, the inherent sadness of the song becomes somewhat bright, before collapsing back down in ringing, shoegaze riffs.

The cliche is that the strength of a song is how well it holds up in re-interpretation. Wye Oak's workouts show that their source is strong indeed. But in doing so, their own skill flexes its own muscle, showing breadth and definition.