Neil Young’s catalog has always been a goldmine in terms of rock and pop covers. Seemingly every serious power-pop band has belted out a live rendition of “Cortez the Killer.” Who doesn’t remember Young and Pearl Jam gettin’ down on some “Rockin’ in the Free World” at the 1993 Video Music Awards? Young’s expansive and rustic batch of tunes has seemingly influenced nearly every musician strumming away on a six-string today. A Fundamental Experiment is a collection of rather bold lo-fi Neil Young satellite release of Bezoar Formations.
Julian Lynch launches the compilation with upbeat fervor and endless replay value by delivering a straightforward pop rendition of “Sedan Delivery.” Young’s curious lyrics such as “I beat a woman with varicose veins/ she stopped to check herself in the mirror/fix her hair and hide her veins” are delivered with such upbeat fervor pep that the tune automatically gets stuck in your head. Metal Rouge’s raucous take on “Helpless” is a distorted wall of sound that’s every bit dissonant and alienating as it is warm and inviting. Sam Goldberg (Radio People) takes on “Transformer Man” and makes it sound not too vaguely like a Stars of the Lid tune left on the cutting room floor. Open ended shifts and melodramatic tones float and careen through space, making for a perfectly discreet moment of meditation. Swanox’s take on “Thrasher” is several minutes of VU-inspired minimal thrash. No real accompaniment (that you can hear) other than a low guitar riff, (maybe) bass, and vocals. Cameron Stallones’ Sun Araw project isn’t a stranger to live setting, and his take on “Barstool Blues” is a head-bobbingly cathartic howl of a version. A slow and steady drum machine urges Stallones’ echo-laden vocals and wall of guitar for an absolute gem of distorted blues.
Stag Hare begins the second side with a blissed-out version of “Cortez the Killer,” possibly one of the most indie-covered Young songs out there. A faithful rendition very much rooted in the style of Landing or Windy & Carl. It’s an unexpected turn, but broadens the scope of Young’s influence nonetheless. Laurentide Ice Sheet’s take on “Southern Man” is bedroom production at its core. Clean vocals, cheap guitars and an even cheaper synth/drum machine oddly compliment the song’s brokedown themes. It’s somewhat lacking in the middle of the other covers, but there’s an endearing quality to the stripped down rendition. Trevor Healy’s atmospheric and airy version of “Round and Round” sounds a lot like a spacier Will Oldham project but with shimmering acoustics and dreamy production. Avocet utilizes only kalimba and a naked voice for a stark take on “Expecting to Fly.” Matt Mondanile (of Real Estate and Ducktails) ends the set with a cold and dark take on “Look Out For My Love” and drops his normal penchant for psychedelic production and large bedroom sounds. This time around, Mondanile’s sound is reminiscent of Phil Elvrum’s perfected take on deep acoustic guitar and off-key vocals. It’s a heartfelt close to an understated compilation.