At the end of every year, we work for weeks curating our annual Best of the Year list (here’s last year’s). We’re monitoring what comes out all year though, so this month I thought: why wait? Here’s a more impulsive and spontaneous list, some songs we’ve written about already and others we didn’t get to. Just some great covers that stood out as the month comes to a close.
After several years exploring electronic music, Sufjan Stevens’ 2015 album Carrie & Lowell was a return to form for fans who preferred his earlier folky fingerpicking. And people who liked the dancier direction? Well, now there’s something for them too: VÉRITÉ’s electropop cover of one of those Carrie & Lowell ballads.
In what will undoubtedly be the first of many astounding collaborations in the recently launched In The Room series, alt-R&B artist Gallant – artist behind our 13th favorite cover of 2015 – and indie legend Sufjan Stevens – no stranger to our year-end lists himself – team up and take on one of Stevens’ own – “Blue Bucket of Gold.”
Follow all our Best of 2014 coverage (along with previous year-end lists) here.
A few months ago, I read an interesting interview with an artist named Nouela. You probably haven’t heard of her, but you may have heard her music. She’s become a specialist in a weird but growing niche: covers recorded for movie and television trailers. Whether doing a piano “Sound of Silence” to promote a new HBO show or a brooding “Black Hole Sun” to promote Liam Neeson punching people, she’s found a quickly-growing way of getting her covers out there.
It struck me as part of a growing trend we’ve seen. More and more great covers seem to come from unexpected places. Sure, you’ve got still your standby sources, your b-sides, tribute albums, and radio shows. But new avenues for covers have increasingly crept in. This year saw a Sam Smith cover that is only available to hear under Grey’s Anatomy dialog (thankfully he’s recorded a few live versions too) and a whole covers album recorded to plug a Canadian TV show. Brands have fully embraced covers too, most recently My Morning Jacket’s “This Land Is Your Land” recorded for North Face ads, or Charli XCX and Bleachers trading covers for Kia.
We don’t care where they originated when we make our year-end lists, though, and we would up with some of everything. In our top five alone, we’ve got a live radio session, a deluxe-edition bonus track, and a cover hiding in plain sight on one of the most acclaimed country records of the year. You have to keep an eye on more places than ever to spot the best covers these days. Wherever they come from, we’re glad to have ’em.
Click on over to page two to begin our countdown, and thanks for reading.
– Ray Padgett, Editor in Chief
(Illustration by Sarah Parkinson)
Arthur Russell is one of those artists I keep promising myself I’ll make some time to listen to. I’ve heard and read lots of good things about him. But the only familiarity with his music I have is through covers of his songs. Joel Gibb’s version of ‘That’s Us/Wild Combination’ off the tribute EP ‘Four Songs By Arthur Russell’ is an absolute stunner of a song.
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
Interpreting song lyrics can be a dicey endeavor. Many songwriters seem to aspire to something poetic, obscure or obtuse. While it may not be hard to deduce the meaning of lyrics like, say, “I wanna rock and roll all nite, and party every day,” so many songs defy easy understanding, either because the lyrics are vague, or hard to hear, or even utter gibberish. R.E.M.’s early songs were filled with random words that made little obvious sense, and yet along with the music, they somehow created a mood. In 2008, Michael Stipe participated in a Q&A with fans, and he said about his early songs:
those songs were mostly written to be sung live. The pa systems were so crap that no one could ever really hear the singer anyway, including the singer. We just never intended to make records, and then suddenly we were making records and the songs were in my head like that, so we just blurred the vocal and turned it way down. The songs that do have words don’t really make any or much sense, it was about creating a feeling and emotion in the room in the moment. As it turns out the records turned out pretty great too, just inscrutable. I had to learn pretty fast how to write a good or great lyric after that. Please don’t analyze them, there’s nothing but feeling there. Sing along and make it up, that’s what I still do.