I’ll be the first to admit, it took me awhile to get The Kinks.
Actually, let’s amend that: I always “got” The Kinks. They were one of those heady influence bands, the kind the musicians you really admire would namedrop or cover b-sides. They stood as pop-rock iconoclasts; smarter than the Stones, looser than the Beatles, less pretentious than the Who.
And they were innovators: “You Really Got Me,” with its distorted guitar riff apparently invented and mumbled, gruff vocals apparently invented heavy metal and punk. Village Green Preservation Society is of great pop importance. Wes Anderson uses them in his movies to great effect. That song with the Caribbean steel drum.
That is to say: I understood them from an intellectual perspective. I comprehended their importance and found no reason to argue with it.
Still, The Kinks have long eluded me as a band I really felt. I’ve listened to a far bit of ‘em and never particularly enjoyed much. Village Green has some fairly fun moments and those early singles are solid, but songs like “Lola,” “Plastic Man,” “Celluloid Heroes,” and the aforementioned “Come Dancing” blur the line between earnest rock and novelty songs. Not bad, per se, just a bit too silly for a stoic young man such as yours truly.
That in mind, the one song by the Kinks I remember my father playing for me as a kid which I have a fondness for to this day is “Strangers.” Figures it’d be a Dave Davies song (as opposed to his more prolific brother Ray), but the emotion in it simply slays me. You listen to it and you can’t help but ache when he yowls, “If I live too long, I’m afraid I’ll die.” Its simple and mournful, yet oddly optimistic: the idea that you go through life mostly alone and the people walking beside are as strangers to you, but really, you’re never alone since you’re walking it together. It’s a “Footsteps in the Sand” type sentiment, but subtly and expertly done.
Thus, when I saw that Wye Oak, a band I was vaguely aware of but wasn’t terribly familiar with was doing a cover of it for the AV Club’s Undercover series (a font of great bands doing wonderful covers), I was intrigued to say the least. They seemed to have all the right elements to perk my interest: comely female guitar player/singer, drummer who plays keyboards while drumming, rootsy + noise feel.
This… I legitimately wasn’t prepared for this. Honestly. Jenn Wasner’s voice just enthralls me. By the end of the first chorus, she’s got me drafting marriage proposals on the back of cocktail napkins. By the time she launches in to a freewheeling, shambling guitar solo, I’ve named our children Mortimer and Bettina and have started a college fund. The harmonies, the simplicity of that noisy shimmering guitar, it’s the sound of absolute conviction and a band performing to their strengths. Listen to it, I feel blissfully buzzed, one and a half Long Island Iced Teas in (as opposed my usual 3) and just feeling the sway.
Check it out and feel momentarily hopeful you wont die alone and unloved.
Editor's note: Hey! Wye Oak will be at The Riv with The Decemberists on February 4th! That's neat! Maybe you should go!