Listen: J Mascis Reworks Elliott Smith’s “Waltz #2”, To Surprisingly Good Effect

There’s a new compilation of Elliott Smith covers due out next week, and since it is a thing in the world that is Elliott Smith-related, it is of great interest to Flavorwire. The compilation, entitled Say Yes!, has been in the works for quite a while — it was first announced in March — and we’ve heard two tracks from it already, namely Yuck’s version of “Bled White” (meh) and Julien Baker’s “Ballad of Big Nothing” (beautiful!). As of today, we’ve now heard three, because J Mascis’s “Waltz #2” appeared on Soundcloud overnight.

Mascis’s world-weary voice is a perfect match for Smith’s songwriting, so it’s no surprise that this cover works a treat — although, curiously, in this case Smith’s original “Waltz 2 (XO)” is really just a jumping-off point here for Mascis’s own work. He reworks the lyric significantly, so much so that this is almost a new song — it uses the “I’m tired” bridge as its chorus, and the rest of the lyrics are more impressionistic interpretations of the song’s subject matter than anything else. The instrumentation is also markedly different to the original — it’s dominated by Mascis’s trademark fuzz-laden guitar sound, which sounds not unlike the electric guitar Smith deployed to great effect on several of the tracks on From a Basement on a Hill, and is thus less jarring in this context than one might expect.

All in all, this sounds like an Elliott Smith song that could have been but never was, which is quite the achievement on Mascis’s part. Bravo!