The third season of HBO’s crime drama, Boardwalk Empire has just finished. Having spent a good deal of time in the Atlantic City area when I was young, I have become a big fan of the show which is based on historical criminal figures. There is a lot to like about the show and many focus on the once-in-a-lifetime role of gangster Nucky Thompson as played by Steve Buscemi. Indeed he is incredible. But what transports you into 1920′s prohibition era South Jersey shore are the sets, costumes, cinematography and perhaps most importantly, the music.
Australian folk songstress Julia Stone has appeared on our radar before as one half of folk-blues duo Angus and Julia Stone alongside her brother. The pair has achieved substantial success in their native country, and Julia has also released two solo albums, including her brand new disc By the Horns. The album includes a cover of The National‘s “Bloodbuzz Ohio.”
The National’s original track is an expansive centerpiece to their 2010 album High Violet, carried by Matt Berninger’s powerful voice. Stone’s cover dials back the emotion that The National brings to their performance, favoring high, wavering vocals and gentler instrumentals. When the two are compared, Stone’s cover feels polished and in keeping with her musical style, but somewhat insubstantial in the shadow of its source material.
When people look back in 2011 in music a decade from now, one name will come to mind: Adele. In our little world of cover songs, she dominated. Everyone covered Adele this year. It’s not just that we saw more covers of “Rolling in the Deep” than any other song; they beat out second place (probably “Pumped Up Kicks”) by like a factor of five! We generally try to look for larger cover trends in these annual wrap-ups, but it’s hard to remember anything else from this year except the year-long onslaught of Adele covers hitting our mailbox.
There’s only one “Rolling in the Deep” cover in this year’s list though. The rest are all over the place. Some of the artists listed built their covers with lush soundscapes, thick beats, and intricate string work. Others just took guitars or pianos and bowled us over with the emotion in their voices. There may not be much of an overarching “Year in Covers” narrative, but that means there’s a cover or two for everyone. From feel-good takes on rap songs to kill-yourself versions of pop songs, this year’s list features flips, flops, and genre switcheroos of all sorts. A good cover should be informed by the source material but stand on its own, and we’ll be unrolling the 50 finest examples of songs doing just that all week. Start with #50-41 on the next page and check back daily as we count down to the best cover of 2011.
Calling Birdy incredibly talented for a 15-year old is accurate, but insufficient. This small singer is incredibly talented for any age. She’s warmed hearts all over Britain in the past year with her covers of the xx and Bon Iver and her debut album just dropped over there. It includes the aforementioned cuts, as well as covers of Phoenix, the National, Fleet Foxes, the Postal Service, and more. We’ve got a few sample tracks to stream below.
Last fall, we posted Philistines Jr. covers by Mercury Rev and Frightened Rabbit, off a tribute album titled If a Lot of Bands Play in the Woods…? that was supposed to come out soon. Well, things seem to have gotten delayed, because it’s a year later without the album seeing the light of day. It finally will, though, on November 1st. Now we have our third listen, from the National, covering “Twenty Miles to NH” as “Twenty Miles to NH Pt 2.”
In January 2010, Oakland indie-popper Antarctica Takes It! launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund his new album Constellations. With Kickstarter, the artist gives various incentives to encourage higher donations. In this case, if a user donated $120, he or she got a personal cover of any song in the world. Two fans stepped up, Antarctica Takes It! recorded two covers of who-knows-what, and that was all we heard. Until now.
Copenhagen-born singer-songwriter Oh Land is no stranger to indie covers. Earlier this year she took on Fleet Foxes’ “White Winter Hymnal,” and this week she found time in her busy schedule touring with Katy Perry to take on The National’s “Bloodbuzz Ohio.” Like “Hymnal,” her cover of “Bloodbuzz” brightens up the original track significantly.