Thursday, February 11, 2010

I will float until I learn how to swim.

My musical discovery of the day on this slow, sleepy snow day came to me via an unassuming enough tweet from that arbiter of cool music and literature, Largehearted Boy:
Morning music: Madeline Ava's ukulele & vocals cover of the In the Aerpolane Over the Sea album

Curiosity piqued, I clicked over. Now, my relationship with cover songs, although much less prickly than that with film remakes, can still be caustic at times. While I usually enjoy a good cover, when it is a song with which I have a strong attachment, I will often be reticent to give the cover a chance or at the very least be ultra critical of it (for this very reason, in my own performances I will usually refrain from covering songs that really have a deep significance to me). In this case, here was a young whom of whom I had never heard taking an entire album that was very near and dear to my heart - an album that I knew inside out and had listened to countless times, an album of which I used to hand out CD-R copies to friends simply because I thought that everybody should have an opportunity to hear it - and reducing it to only ukulele and vocals (with kazoo performances featured on the pair of instrumental tracks). This was an album I had always lauded for its ability to create its own world and completely occupy that world, and this woman was rushing through it in 17 minutes.

What I found is that Madeline Ava's performance was disarmingly natural, self-possesed while charmingly self-conscious, and endearingly adorable. According to her website, she describes her music as "cuddlecore ukulele," which is not only my new favorite genre label but also perfectly describes the music she plays. While she tends to play simple chords in a very twee style and has a cute, idyllic singing voice that is quite antithetical to Jeff Mangum's own, her version holds it own and is worth listening to. Surely, it is a different experience than listening to the original Neutral Milk Hotel album, but it is an experience that I think has a lot to offer to NMH fans. Above all else, this recording feels like a ramshackle but exquisitely felt love letter to an album that means a lot to a lot of people. It is not perfectly executed, but to paraphrase Okkervil River (and to give a nod to the very song from which I named my blog), the flaws make the recording all the more fun.

Madeline Ava's "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (except not really...)" is available for streaming and free download over at the CLLCT site. If you like what you hear (and really, if you don't, I may have reason to doubt whether you really possess a heart), please consider also downloading her possibly even more endearing album of original songs, "Songs I'm Too Nervous to Sing for My Mom."

And hey, Philadelphia area people, in a rare show of synchronicity, I have found out that Madeline Ava will be playing a show at the DIY south Philly venue Circle of Hope this coming Saturday, February 13, at 6pm. Is anyone down? Let me know!

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