There are song covers, and then there’s what DM Stith did to R.E.M.’s “Man on the Moon.” Stith’s remake is transformative, turning the hazy guitar pop tune into an ethereal 13-minute drone piece.
Having dropped on October 14th, this remake is the upstate NY-based graphic artist and musician’s first release since his 2020 EP Waving 1-4. It’s also the first release on new NYC label Historical Fiction Records.
In terms of soundscape, this cover is oriented around a fluttering piano melody and an ambient assembly of synths in the background with ghastly vocals which enter and exit throughout the track. Stith slows down the tempo to a crawl, allowing each lyric plenty of time to sink in. His whisper-like vocal performance doesn’t stray far from Michael Stipe’s original take, emphasizing the subtlety which Stith aims for.
Reinforcing this approach, he eschews R.E.M.’s upbeat chorus and zones in on its wistful verses. He adds lyrics of his own, complementing lines such as “Mr. Andy Kaufman’s gone wrestling” with other abstract musings such as “D’Angelo’s Voodoo over first person shooters” and “Mom is sinking deeper into CNN.”
Stith’s atmospheric take on the song also gives new power to lines from Stipe such as “Newton got beaned by the apple, good” and “Mr. Charles Darwin had the gall to ask” which admire two people who changed the boundaries of conventional thought.
While drawn out, this cover’s sound is powerful, getting louder and slowly adding layers as it progresses. Eight minutes of buildup is rewarded in the song’s instrumental outro, which for several minutes repeats the same idea found throughout the track but with waves of distorted, torrential noise.
Stith repeats the lyric “let’s play Twister, let’s play risk” numerous times in his cover, and fittingly so, because he most surely took risks. He abandoned a revered R.E.M. track’s song structure, instrumentation, and didn’t remotely adhere to its pacing, but still made a powerful and successful cover that earned the acclaim of Michael Stipe himself, who said “DM Stith whispers with hypnotic, bone-deep authenticity, somewhere between Nina Simone, Perfume Genius, PJ Harvey and Leonard Cohen.”
DM Stith’s remake of “Man on the Moon” is a shocking and moving rendition that masters the art of the cover track.