Record #1: Neon Bible by A Giant Dog
This is the first post in a series I am producing in which I will listen to and comment on every record in my collection. The records will be listened to in the order in which they appear in my Discogs account, which is different than how I have them organized in their crates.
Our first record is Neon Bible, by A Giant Dog. I purchased this album from Euclid Records in New Orleans using a gift card that I received from my mother-in-law. I had never heard of A Giant Dog before but the selling point, a punk band covering an entire Arcade Fire album song-for-song, appealed to me enough to take a leap and buy it. It helped that I was running out of time quicker than I was running out of gift card.
A quick note about Euclid, before we jump into the album. A good friend of mine recommended the store to me when my wife and I were visiting NOLA over the holidays (shoutout to M. Heitz). If you find yourself in that city in search of some local records, I can't think of a better place than Euclid. They keep in stock a good selection of music local to NOLA and you will find about a third of their store dedicated to jazz/soul/funk beyond that. They have a decent punk section, too, which is rarer and rarer these days. If I am exploring a record store that is new to me I try to find that section first as it is where I pick up some of the most interesting live recordings.
I did not, however, find this record in that punk section. I discovered it while browsing the rock section for an Arcade Fire record. The cover art led me to believe that this was one of their live acoustic albums, which is why I first pulled it out of the stack. The jacket is printed in matte black and the image features an embroidered "interpretation" of the original album art.
I had to wait to listen to this record for a couple of weeks. The only record player I had access to down there was from a mass-produced brand that I don't trust to keep my records in good condition, so this was not going to spin until I was on my home system. We'll come back to this idea when I discuss the Pink Floyd record I picked up on the same trip.
I am not sure what I expected to hear the first time I spun it.
Track one, "Black Mirror," does a good job of setting the tone with distorted guitars and chugging bass. There is no mistaking that this song was written by Arcade Fire, but by the start of the second track, A Giant Dog does a good job of making it clear that this disc won't have any copycat covers (think Weezer covering Toto). "Keep The Car Running" has good energy, with punchy four on the floor drumming and high-pitched vocals that almost sound sped up. I'll admit that I checked if I had set the player to the right speed.
I very much enjoyed the balance to this side. "Neon Bible" slows things down, quieting the record and providing a pause before the growing noise we hear in Intervention. That, the fourth track, starts slow and full with a synth-sounding organ. Crisp drumming pierces the synth as layers of distorted guitar and bass build to a loud and energetic finish. This side coasts there, a bit, through "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations", picking up hints of early 2000's Metric.
I am quite impressed with how this still has all the hallmarks of an Arcade Fire record but also sounds so distinctly different. More than just having grungier distortion on the guitar and more frenetic energy in the drumming, this side does a good job of marrying the styles of the two bands. At least what I imagine A Giant Dog's sound is after listening to side one.
Boom. A burst of energy right out of the gate, sustained through the second track on side 2. There is a lot less kitsch to this record when compared to the original. It is more directly a rock album, without all the experimental sounds/layering/instruments. I like Arcade Fire and don't intend that to be a criticism of their style, just an acknowledgment that you could enjoy this record if you don't particularly like them. That being said, if you were coming to this record as a fan of hard-hitting punk, you will not find that here.
For a few months last summer I only listened to B-sides of my records. When I was in living in Lincoln Nebraska in high school I would play Queen's A Night at the Opera on repeat, only ever listening to side 1. It is just such a solid block of tracks, even considering that Bohemian Rhapsody is on side 2.
"(Antichrist Television Blues)" is a standout track for me. I might not be giving this record the credit it deserves by continuing to compare it to the original, which is already unfair of me to do as I hardly remember that record. It was this track that made me realize the merit of turning this whole album over to the whims of a punk group. The vocals have a strain to them as they yell lyrics speaking on behalf of a father balancing his faith against his daughter's singing career.
This B-Side never has to worry about being ignored. It is perhaps better than the first side. There is even more energy, when it gets quieter it still has some punk showing through, and there is not one track on this side I would not try to drop the needle on.
"No Cars Go" pulls us back into an early 2010's indie-rock sound, more four on the floor, and periodic synth seemingly played with two potentiometers.
There is a strong finish to this record, leaving the listener with a slow and breathy outro in the form of "My Body is a Cage." It keeps the sound in a time and place. Neon Bible was originally released in 2007, and this record-length cover pays homage to the sounds of the late 2000's while also not sounding like a poor facsimile.
I am quite pleased with this record, especially as it cracks the bottle against this review blog. Having covered songs in the past, I know how daunting it is to play an homage to the original while still making it your own. That is especially difficult when crossing genres. All my punk covers of folk and rock songs came out sounding like they were written by the Ramones. The only success I ever had in that effort was a punk cover of the Jurassic Park theme song that my bandmate and I played off the cuff at the end of our rehearsals. I respect how well A Giant Dog stayed true to themselves through each track of this record. If we're ever thumbing through my collection together be sure to put this one on queue to play.
American Tunes by Allen Toussaint