Sufjan Stevens’ ridiculous cover of the Castanets


And I mean ridiculous in the most sincere and complimentary way. If you’ve been living under a rock for the past 12 months you probably haven’t heard about Dark Was The Night , a charity album crammed full of Indie celebrities ranging from Arcade Fire to Andrew Bird, the profits from which go towards the Red Hot Organization – a charity committed to raising funds and awareness for HIV and AIDS around the world.

Charity albums are usually well intentioned but often fall short of expectations, this is very much an exception. Dark Was The Night is an excellent selection of songs and is much recommended by me, it’s even gotten itself onto the best new music section on Pitchfork, so it must be good! Anyway, the album isn’t strictly what this post is about, I just thought I’d give some attention to a particular song that is blowing my mind of late.

When I first listened to the album and stumbled across the epic and sprawling You Are The Blood by Sufjan Stevens I immediately presumed it was an offcast from one of his albums, it was just too good, too amazing to be something written especially for a charity album or to be a dusted off B-side as artists tend to donate to these sorts of things. I searched desperately for the album that was the home for this song, I had been meaning to get into his music for quite a while so this seemed like the perfect excuse. After some frustrated detective work on Wikipedia and Allmusic I couldn’t find it anywhere, turns out, as the more sagely amongst you probably already know, it’s a cover of Sufjan’s fellow label mates, Castanets who penned the song for their 2004 release, Cathedral, which also comes much recommended by moi (not sure about Pitchfork though).

Listening to the original I have no idea where Sufjan got the idea or the motivation to soup up the song like he has. The Castanets’ version is very nice and all, but it’s a quite typical indie-folk, acoustic guitar driven affair. There’s some hint of the haunting, chambered reverberations that are turned up to 11 in Sufjan’s cover, but it’s quite a modest pseudo love song.

How and why Stevens’ decided to craft such a grandiose and symphonic beast, with electronic beats, glitched out vocals, dreamy and sweeping piano solos, screaming guitars and what sounds like a small brass band from such a song I’ll never know. It simultaneously take everything that’s great from several genres, fuses them together and creates something than sounds like something Beethoven or Tchaikovsky would come out with if they were around today, it’s sort of post-rock, but it’s not quite, but it really is just, well, immense. It’s a remarkable cover that ranks up there along with Hendrix’s All Along The Watchtower and Buckley’s Hallelujah in the pantheon of superb covers that better the already impressive original in every conceivable way.

You would think that I’d give you a download for this song now, but as it’s on a charity album, I think you should buy the album if you’re that intrigued it’s a great album and a great cause. Instead, as way of compensation, I’ll give you the, less impressive, but still quite great Castanets original, which is sort of required to appreciate how good the cover is, and a topical Stevens’ tune.

Dark Was The Night is available from Amazon, iTunes and pretty much any other reputable music store. Buy it.

MP3: Castanets – You Are The Blood
MP3: Sufjan Stevens – Flint (For The Unemployed And Underpaid)


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