Download This scours the web’s dark corners for cool cover freebies. View past installments.
Here at Cover Me, we tend to see a lot of artists pop up over and over. Some, like Stephin Merritt, are covered all the time for the sheer versatility of their songwriting. Others, like James Eric, have the ear and the talent for releasing a near-constant stream of quality covers. Eric, in fact, has been even more of a staple on this blog than Merritt or his band the Magnetic Fields and was the first artist featured in our Cover Commissions series.
Now we’re featuring Eric not as cover artist, but as cover curator. 21 Love Songs: A Tribute To The Magnetic Fields isn’t the first of his compilations we’ve come across – we featured his Broadway collection last June – but it is his first and, by his own admission, his best. Despite the album 69 Love Songs-recalling title, we’re treated to covers of a vast swathe of the Fields catalog, going so far as to include “Plant White Roses” from Merge Records’ fifth anniversary compilation.
Eric has long held an affinity for Merritt’s work. His cover of “(Crazy For You But) Not That Crazy” was featured in our birthday post for Stephin Merritt. As for why he chose to put together an entire album of Magnetic Fields covers, he told us, “Since Stephen Merritt enjoyed playing around with genre and songwriting convention, often turning the idea of pop music on its ear, I was motivated to ask musicians to contribute tracks in the same way. I wanted them to make completely different variations on the original, which they did beautifully.”
On that birthday post for Merritt, we had to make sure not to draw too heavily from the compilation. Luckily for everyone, there’s no holding back here. Some tracks stick closely to Merritt’s originals, while others diverge unpredictably and further prove the potency of his songwriting. Eric referred to the compilation as “tribute to one of the most romantic and quirky bands on the planet.” True to the statement, every cover delivers on the romantic quirkiness but also on the fact that this is indeed a tribute. Some so-called tribute compilations are simply collections of covers; each song on 21 Love Songs, though, sounds like a heartfelt testimonial on the beauty of Merritt’s songwriting.
Steinbeck – who describe themselves as “a polite band of native New Englanders who will rock your world then shake your hand” – deliver a punk-ska “I Think A New Heart” that makes it almost impossible to listen to the original without wondering if that’s how Merritt intended it. Portland’s A Lime Tree replaces the synth and R2D2-esque beeping and booping of “You and Me and the Moon” with fingerpicking and acoustic strums fitting the naturalistic lyrics. Meanwhile, Barcelona’s Evripidis And His Tragedies create a “Time Enough For Rocking When We’re Old” deserving of their band name: classic, timeless, ethereal.
Chicago’s Tinyfolk, with whom James Eric regularly collaborates, provides one of the compilation’s two covers of “I Don’t Believe You,” moving with the slo-mo, 8-bit feel of old Mario games, stuck in whatever goop always tripped Mario up in the levels with giant bugs. Saint Joe Hazelwood – a band now known as The Points North and consisting of nobody named Joe Hazelwood (or canonized Saints, for that matter) – shows us that you don’t need to diverge too far from the path beaten by Merritt and friends to deliver a beautiful cover. Their “Come Back From San Francisco,” is stripped down to the basics of the original: a quavering voice backed by acoustic guitar, light percussion, and minimalistic bass.
This is but a sample of the amazing artists and covers on 21 Love Songs, and it is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a representative one. The compilation contains too much talent and The Magnetic Fields songbook is far too versatile for a few tracks to give you a full sense of the tribute. Enjoy the MP3s below and head over here to download the full album.
21 Love Songs: A Tribute To The Magnetic Fields Tracklist:
01. Monica Y Carlos – Yeah! Oh Yeah!
02. The American Icons of Rebellion – Busby Berkeley Dreams
03. Evripidis And His Tragedies – Time Enough for Rocking When We’re Old
04. Iji – When the Open Road is Closing In
05. Steinbeck – I Think I Need a New Heart
06. Microfilm – The Desperate Things You Made Me Do
07. Abrevadero – All My Little Words
08. Secret Owl Society – 100,000 Fireflies
09. Tinyfolk – I Don’t Believe You
10. Manipulator Alligator – Living In An Abandoned Firehouse With You
11. Fairmount Fair – Why I Cry
12. James Eric – (Crazy For You But) Not That Crazy
13. The Brooke (A Tiny Ocean) – Born On A Train
14. Redbear – I Don’t Want to Get Over You
15. Porches – Reno Dakota
16. A Lime Tree – You and Me and the Moon
17. Existential Hero – Plant White Roses
18. Fire Island AK – I Don’t Believe You
19. Spare Machine – Josephine
20. Saint Joe Hazelwood – Come Back From San Francisco
21. Your Yellow Dress – Absolutely Cuckoo
22. Jordaan Mason – Take Ecstasy With Me [Bonus Track]