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Terrible Tribute Showdown: Porter Robinson's "Language"

Porter Robinson goes full Jesus pose.
Porter Robinson goes full Jesus pose.
Photo by Julian Bajsel

The thing I hate about karaoke, aside from drunk bachelorette parties and my own crippling fear of singing in front of people, is the music, these bad knockoffs pretending to be the songs we love. I know spending all day making pretend versions of songs isn't the most glamorous job in the world, but would it kill these people to take pride in their work?

In addition to karaoke mills, there's a whole industry out there dedicated to pumping out crappy knockoffs of good music. Thanks to the various streaming music services, the awful versions of the songs you know, be they karaoke or "tribute" versions, are just a mouse click away.

How awful are we talking? That's what I wanted to find out.

Porter Robinson performs in Houston tonight for the third time in the past 12 months. Since his track "Language" was one of the best singles to come out last year, I decided to make it our test subject.

Rewind:

Saturday Night: Porter Robinson at Stereo Live

Saturday: Identity Festival at The Woodlands

Let's start with the original version of the song to see what we're working with:

Not the easiest song in the world to cover, but certainly not the hardest. The tricky part will be matching the overall sound of the original. Robinson produced the hell out of this track: Top to bottom, it just sounds good, from the synth selection to the drum sounds used to the mixing. Nailing the effects-heavy parts may prove difficult as well.

On to the pretenders:

Contender 1: "Language" by Big Tunes 2012 One of the things you'll notice when you get to the meat of this track is that there's no bass. Something in the mix is playing bass notes, but it's buried so low that it might as well not be there at all. Because of this, the song sounds very thin and unfun to listen to. It has a whole mess of other problems, but its biggest sin is a lack of dynamics.

To their credit, they at least did all six minutes of the track, the vocals aren't terrible and the drums sound close to the original, so there's that.

 

Contender 2: "Language (Tribute to Porter Robinson)" by Smash It Tunes Here's an example of what happens when people who don't understand synths try and build a synth-heavy track. Although the drums aren't the worst ever, pretty much every other instrument sound is lame, from the annoying synth to the dead-sounding piano.

Also, the singer's line reading of the word "release" is kind of weird. On the plus side, the song isn't produced terribly. You can actually hear the bass at least, although someone should probably explain sidechain compression to them.

Contender 3: "Language (Party Tribute to Porter Robinson)" by Ultimate Party Jams This is basically the missing link between real music and the midi versions of songs you might have downloaded back in the Windows 95 days. The notes are right, but it doesn't even sound in the same ballpark as the original version of the track.

And yet, I don't hate listening to this. It's almost like The Room of "Language" covers -- awful, but charming. I mean, listen to those completely ridiculous sound effects: It sounds like a robotic bird is trying to communicate with us. And those vocals drowning in too much reverb? Amazing.

 

Bonus Contender: "Language (Drum & Bass Remix)" by Magic Remixers It's another bad cover, except this time there are boring drum and bass loops over everything. They didn't put any effort into making this, so I'm not putting any effort into reviewing it.

Winner's Circle:

"Best" Awful "Language" Cover: "Language (Tribute to Porter Robinson)" by Smash It Tunes, by virtue of the fact that it's the one that sounds closest to being a real song.

"Fan Favorite" Awful "Language" Cover: "Language (Party Tribute to Porter Robinson)" by Ultimate Party Jams, because while it may be terrible, it's kind of charming. At least it's never boring.

Porter Robinson plays with Surain and 2t0ne, 9 p.m. tonight at Stereo Live, 6400 Richmond.


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