It's not every day that a children's choir gets to open for the Polyphonic Spree — unless, of course, you're talking about Staten Island's remarkable PS22 Chorus. Manned by public-school fifth-graders, the PS22 Chorus has made its name by covering the pop hits of everyone from Janis Joplin to Lykke Li to Phillip Phillips. Apart from opening for the Spree, its members were most recently a big part of the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Most times, their covers are ear-catching because they take the hyper-produced sound of a chart-topper and replace it with the decidedly lo-fi — but earnest — approach of recording an auditorium full of children singing in unison. It's a cold heart that doesn't find some appeal in this.
However, on rare occasions, the PS22 Chorus doesn't simply offer a contrast to its source material; it finds ways to transcend it. Tame Impala's "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards" has already been a breakout hit in 2012, with singer Kevin Parker concocting a marvelous earworm with the title hook. In PS22's take, the chorus is an ideal fit with Parker's falsetto, preserving the original fragility on one level but then adding the stirring power of a large group.
Choral makeovers sometimes sacrifice the intensity of a lead vocal in favor of a symphony of voices, but PS22 offers the best of both worlds: The full choir sings the main body of the song, then shifts to its two young leads, who perfectly harmonize the hook. (It's an absolute joy to watch the female lead, Jianna, bob and sway during her parts.) It didn't occur to me, before, that "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards" would be a perfect candidate for a choral makeover. But after you hear PS22 tackle it, it's hard to imagine how it was ever meant to be heard any other way. Kevin Parker himself summed up the response when he posted the video on Tame Impala's Facebook page, simply exclaiming, "holy bajoly Batman."
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