The Shrillest Highs and Lowest Lows

I pretty much completely detest the Iron & Wine version of “Such Great Heights.” I’m sure this will make me terribly unpopular with the indie snob crowd, but I don’t give a shit. I have tried and tried to let it grow on me. In fact, I just listened to it in its excruciating entirety a few minutes ago just in case I’ve changed my mind. I haven’t. It sucks.

Here’s why I love the original: it’s exuberant. It’s giddy. It’s full and lush and pretty and bright. It’s a fast flight in a sunny sky. The music is perfect, starting off quiet like a quickened heartbeat and growing until it soars. From a musician’s standpoint, it’s tightly-written, with a beautiful arc. I think arcs are especially important in pop songs that use electronic beats because without a good arc, it’s really easy for a song to become repetitive. It clocks in at 4:26, but it feels like those four and a half minutes fly by in a moment. I almost always listen to it twice in a row when I’m playing it in the car.

At 4:12, the Iron & Wine version actually comes in shorter than the Postal Service version, but I’d never have guessed it, because the Iron & Wine version feels like it’s ten minutes long. It’s ponderous. It’s boring. Sam Beam is undoubtedly a talented performer, but with only his voice and an acoustic guitar, he manages to make “Such Great Heights” sound as repetitive as a crappy 1985 Casio keyboard synth beat. His phrasing is weird and awkward in places. He takes some of the notes down the scale in places where they held steady in the original, and I think this stylistic choice in his singing stagnates the song where it should be moving forward. I think I get what he’s going for here – a dreamy sort of bliss, maybe – but I don’t think he hits it at all. There’s a very fine line between “dreamy bliss” and “boring the shit out of me,” and this version lands squarely on the wrong side of that line.

I’m kind of tired of hearing people go on and on about how much better the Iron & Wine version is, because I think that’s a load of crap. And I might have some hipster t-shirts and some dark-rimmed glasses, but I’m not about to go putting the I&W version of the song in the “listening” section of my (nonexistent) LiveJournal so that people see how hip and cool I am by listing it.

  1. It’s on the soundtrack for a movie that may have started small, but is now pretty widely seen/accepted/loved/owned, so it’s not like it’s this hidden gem anymore, if if was ever a gem to begin with.
  2. Also, it’s in a fucking M&Ms commercial, so I’m thinking that the indie hipster snob crowd ought to be eschewing it by now and writing in their LiveJournals about how Iron & Wine has sold out.

In the interest of fair and accurate reporting, I listened to both versions several times while writing this post, and I’d just like to close it by letting you know that I’ve upgraded “pretty much completely detest” to “absolutely fucking loathe” by now. I’m annoyed just thinking about it. Now you know.

4 Replies to “The Shrillest Highs and Lowest Lows”

  1. 1. I’m glad you sent you back to the movie with the link.
    2. I think Zack, Zac, Zakwhatever did a butchering to every song used in the film. It made the film so much less enjoyable to watch. He just scattered them throughout ’cause he liked ’em and, once someone started talking or, say, he gets to his desitination on his bike, he just cuts the song. It just drops off and is totally awkward. I like his selection of songs but hate his treatment – it’s so bad it’s amazing it made it out like that in the final.
    3. Really, I can’t get over what a bad fking job he did in his handling those song. Really, it’s making me upset just thinking about it again.
    4. I prefer the PS version of that song… but sometimes the I&W version gets stuck in my head and I don’t mind it at all.
    5. Cat Power has some covers that do a similar thing to other songs. She covers “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones and totally cut out the chorus (I can’t go no – Satisfaction). I took repeated listens before I realized that it was a cover of the song. I love it – and the rest of the covers, too. I don’t normally go for covers. I wonder what you’d think of it.

  2. 1. Do you like Iron & Wine in other contexts? I.E. do you like other Iron & Wine songs, just not this one?

    2. They are both good, for different reasons.

    Oh, and bitching about pop artists selling music to commericals is so 1990s. :-P

  3. 1. What movie?
    2. While that was fascinating… I’m still tore up about the 52 dollar chinese buffet and need you to vent it for me.

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