The Bob Dylan of experimental pop (thanks to that idiosyncratic, Marmite sort of voice) has become a bonafide alt-rock icon since she collaborated with The Flaming Lips and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon in the early ’10s. Hence Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard curating this covers celebration of the broad and under-appreciated scope of Yoko Ono’s songwriting, from bubblegum pop to fox-caught-on-fencepost and back again.
Many of the contributors work their own unique wonders with the material at hand; the simplicity of Ono’s writing lends itself equally to piano or corroded guitar. Sharon Van Etten turns ‘Toyboat’ into a haunting, oceanic spiritual lament where subtle hums and coos do the heavy melodic lifting, like a ghost ship shanty; Japanese Breakfast works her own magic on ‘There Is No Goodbye’; and Amber Coffman (formerly of Dirty Projectors) turns ‘Run Run Run’ into an intimate lo-fi piece played on what sounds like Lou Reed’s ‘Heroin’ guitar.
The Magnetic Fields‘ baritone crooner Stephin Merritt takes a similar angle on ‘Listen, The Snow Is Falling’, creating an enigmatic atmosphere by means of throbbing church organ and drip-drip beats like stalactites melting in a cavern. Several of the full-band covers are similarly reverential. Yo La Tengo, appearing twice, join forces with David Byrne to give the nursery rhyme-ish ‘Who Has Seen The Wind’ a lovely barbershop treatment, then later deliver ‘There Is No Goodbye Between Us’ as if from the 6 Music Shoegaze Lounge. The Flaming Lips crank up the deep space funk vibes of their recent albums for ‘Mrs. Lennon’ and Death Cab themselves have lots of indie-rock fun with the breathlessly perky ‘Waiting For The Sunrise’.
In fact, the album only really goes astray when contributors decide, understandably, to pay tribute to Yoko’s avant-garde side. To out-weird Yoko, it transpires, is a futile mission. Deerhoof’s ‘No No No’, for example, does a good job of capturing the spirit of Yoko’s cacophonous art frenzies, but sounds as though it’s playing at twice the correct speed. Which is probably the point, but merely piles quirk on quirk for quirk’s sake.
Ono’s experimentalism is better emulated by U.S. Girls, who transforms 1972’s ‘Born In A Prison’ into a twinkly operatic show tune that most fittingly reflects how striking and surprising Yoko’s music can be at its best. A decidedly strange record with flashes of beauty and brilliance, then. How utterly Yoko.
Release date: February 18
Record label: Canvasback Music / Atlantic Records