We love how Merge Records runs their label. With a roster of artists that feel more about art and less about taking money to the bank, they do things and take risks that many labels wouldn’t dream of. When they had Arcade Fire on their roster, they were a band that every major label took a run at, and at the same time, they were a band that released several great records for Merge alone. For the longest time, the debate of which is better of their earlier works lead us to believe that while Suburbs is a great record, Neon Bible has a better song craft and overall cohesiveness to it, thus making it a better release. When Merge announced they had four secret releases in their Born Under a Good Sign series, we had no idea that one of those four would be a re-imagined version of Neon Bible performed by Austin’s A Giant Dog. While the Texas punks might not be who you’d think can cover the album well, you’d be wrong as they breathe new life into the album making it feel newer than it’s age from over a decade ago.
Without digging too deep into a full review, it should be noted that A Giant Dog did what we love best about covers in general. Whether it be a song or in this case, an album, they made it their own rather than a carbon copy of the original. The way “Black Mirror” opens alone should be enough reason to stream this version for days. Sabrina Ellis takes the vocals and adds her signature sneer to the words, making one wonder if the song would’ve been better in the Texas’ punk’s hands originally. A lot of the heavier production that Arcade Fire employed originally is gone here, as A Giant Dog gets to the songs almost like they’re trying just to stamp them out with their intense style.
Other highlights that have lost much of the cinematic touches from the original, yet have been replaced with honesty and a straightforward approach come on “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations.” Opening like a dark new wave track before the band launches into a fevered pace, the song has these drums that sound like they were recorded in a bomb shelter that take it to a new space. And while the punk energy of “The Well and the Lighthouse” and the expansive tones from an almost glam version of “Windowsill” are both grand, it’s the version of “Ocean of Noise” that really stands out. With tones and a restructuring that feel like the music leading a Broadway musical, A Giant Dog adds their own touches to the track and re-imagines it without killing it’s original intentions. What this version of Neon Bible is really stating is, if you want to make a cover album, it has to be on this level in the least.
The album can be streamed on all streaming sites, it can be purchased digitally in all online music stores or physically from all independent record stores found here next month. A Giant Dog will be appearing twice in person this year in Austin, TX on September 27 at The ABGB and December 14 at Barracuda.
Image Credits: Photo by Loic Warin.