Run For Cover is a weekly music column comparing cover songs to the original version. Prepare for a major bending of rules as we hear musicians throw around genres, tempos, style, and intent. Whether they’re picking up another’s song out of respect or boredom, the results have impressed us.
By now, most everyone knows Vampire Weekend. The Brooklyn rock band formed in 2006 at Columbia University thanks to a shared love of punk rock and African music. Shortly after, they dropped their debut self-titled album in 2008 and rocketed to the top of Best Albums of the Year lists. Contra came two years later and then Modern Vampires of the City in 2013.
Their world domination came in the form of late night debuts and guest stars. Thanks to their music, those aesthetics never got annoying. There’s something about afro-rhythms that are impossible to dislike. Paul Simon got us dancing to them in the ‘70s; Vampire Weekend dressed them up in oxfords four decades later.
On “Cousins,” the quartet proved there’s a method behind the sonic madness. Previously, the band’s fluttering guitar lines sounded antsy and coy. This time it’s straight blitz. Irregular bass pumps spotty blood into the number, giving the illusion of a nonstop sprint while Ezra Koenig sings about extended family and the ever-present option to bail (“You could turn your back on the bitter world” — emphasis on the “could”). Their fingers move as fast as their feet. Five years later, it still feels like a refreshing run amidst family chaos.
Instead of sticking to the college campus, slapstick folk rock dudes Mumford & Sons were busy bringing front porch folk to the mainstream. For some, it’s hard to appreciate good banjo plucking. Mumford & Sons broke that weird divide between the north and south by invading the airwaves.
And oh, how they stormed the radio.
The British group helped give rise to the West London folk scene, particularly when they first played Glastonbury in 2008. When their debut LP Sigh No More dropped in 2009, they saw their first hit: “Little Lion Man”. That opening guitar riff, that oh-so dramatic crescendo, was everywhere. As with any radio hit, it was hard not to find it annoying after several summer months. Especially since their structure is horridly predictable. But that infectious speed was what lit the song, and its listeners, with life.
The best way to understand their approach is by looking at it applied to someone else’s work. In this case, that’s Vampire Weekend. In 2010, the UK banjo-totting group picked up “Cousins” in a stop at the BBC Live Lounge. Naturally, they did what they do best: turn jittery pop into an old-fashioned stomping number for the barn.
The snappy intro of Vampire Weekend’s original gets cut for a slow pronunciation of the first few verses. After a minute of dillydallying, Mumford & Sons count off into a jovial dance that seems to have all four running around the room. The next three minutes are straight fun. Everyone’s strums almost fall out of line in an effort to keep the speed barreling forward. It’s folk punkisms repping country flair. Come the end, they yelp out for a breakdown and banjo solo before reuniting for one last chorus. It’s an energetic take on an already high-paced number that owns its southern style. And in case you were wondering, yes, Ezra Koenig approves.