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Unexpected Covers: Head Scratchers and Head Nodders

Indie rock is having a covers moment. First was Beck’s decision to cover full albums and release them one track at a time. The Flaming Lips covered Dark Side of the Moon. Then, streaming material from Peter Gabriel’s Scratch My Back, featuring covers of artists like Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, and Elbow. Flavorwire even got in on the act, giving you a mixtape featuring indie rock covers of indie rock songs.

With Vampire Weekend’s cover of Rancid’s “Ruby Soho,” it seems that we have reached a WTF cover saturation point: Koenig replacing Tim Armstrong’s punk growl with crooning over glistening beach guitar. Listening to the versions side-by-side is like the rug got pulled out from under the Rancid original and broke its legs.

After the jump, we give you the VW version plus some other unexpected covers that’ll make you scratch your head. They’re curious choices, unique and incongruous, but always interesting. Which ones are your favorites?

Vampire Weekend – “Ruby Soho”
Vampire Weekend and “thrash” are not two words you usually hear in the same sentence. Then again, how many people are fans of both Rancid and Vampire Weekend? VW don’t really bring any hard edges to this cover, as meandering guitar is overcome by cymbal splashes and Koenig’s genteel vocals.

The Raconteurs – “Crazy” (Gnarls Barkley)
Jack White subverts the smooth soul of “Crazy,” howling and sweating through a wall of amplified guitars. It sounds evil, and White’s cackling laugh and cracking voice is more than a little disturbing.

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Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit – “Paper Planes” (M.I.A.)
Think you’ve heard too much of “Paper Planes”? Think again. Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya of The Very Best offers a version of the song that’s pure joy, shouting over the original chorus but otherwise melting down M.I.A.’s icy, detached delivery.

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Prince – “Creep” (Radiohead)

His Coachella appearance is already legendary, but Prince took the headlining set to the next level with a revved up, sexy version of “Creep.” You hear the familiar chord progression slowly evolve, and the chorus explodes with Prince’s inimitable upper register rasp. The incredibly dexterous and dirty guitar solo coming out of the crowd singalong will make you want to drive way too fast.

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Grizzly Bear – “Boy From School” (Hot Chip)
Plaintive acoustic strumming characterizes this cover, eliminating metallic tinge and replacing it with unadorned, drawn-out longing. Echoed vocals and chamber-pop harmonies remind you that you’re still listening to Grizzly Bear, far away from the booty-shaking burble and cough of the Hot Chip original.

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Solange Knowles – “Stillness Is The Move” (Dirty Projectors)
“Stillness Is The Move” always sounded like a hip-hop song, so maybe Solange is just bringing it back to its natural roots. Hand claps dominate, as does a funky rumbling bass. Hopefully some familial competition inspires Beyonce to take on a few indie-rock covers of her own.

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Antony and the Johnsons – “Crazy in Love” (Beyonce)
With his Hercules & Love Affair guest spot, Antony Hegarty showed he could stretch beyond austere, sparse orchestral works. Here, he gives “Crazy in Love” the somber treatment, throbbing the vocals and making the pleas ache of raw, quiet desperation. Sobbing violin takes the place of rousing horns.

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The Flaming Lips – “Borderline” (Madonna)
Maybe a Madonna cover shouldn’t be so unexpected from the weirdness that is the Flaming Lips. They strip off queasy synth line, letting Wayne Coyne’s falsetto glide over a minimal beat. Bass skronk and ferocious gong meld with breathy harmonies to transform the song into a psychedelic freakout.

Moby – “Temptation” (New Order)
Moby turns the upbeat New Wave classic into a mournful dirge. A female vocalist takes over Bernard Sumner’s lyrics and strips down the passion, leaving a vulnerable hole. The song is so completely transformed that it’s near-unrecognizable, Moby successfully masking his dance floor proclivities.

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Ezra Koenig with Fucked Up – “Parents” (The Descendents)
How can we not include this video of Koenig performing at the insanity that is a Fucked Up live show? It shows his punk roots and a screaming ability that is heavily watered down in the Rancid cover. Plus, it’s worth watching the video just to see what Koenig wore to this whirling mass of sweat, blood, and punk.

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