Whoa, how did I manage to miss this one for at least a few years? Awhile back you might recall that Radiohead released “stems” for their song “Reckoner” from In Rainbows. These stems basically are individual tracks from the song, not quite the raw multi-track recordings, but rather they were grouped into different pieces like strings and rhythm guitar or background vocals or lead vocal or lead guitar or drums and percussion. With these stems they allowed you to remix the song and upload it to a cool site where you could vote on your favorites. The results were decidedly mixed as to be expected from such a project. But there were some gems.
Among them was Julianna Barwick’s version:
Now I vaguely remember hearing this one once or twice perhaps. I’ve known of Barwick now for a year or two and always admired her stuff. It simply never clicked with me who created this remix. But with Barwick’s new amazing masterpiece album The Magic Place, I am more than aware of who she is. That record completely sold on her ambient choral music: it’s transcendent, effervescent and absolutely stunning work.
Somehow, I guess I just missed this complete reinvention of one of my favorite Radiohead songs. It totally works and hints at how amazing a collaboration with Yorke could potentially be.
Really loving this video for “Tiny Head” by The Luyas:
I just really dig how simple and clean it is, but still manages to be artful. Based around the singer Jessie Stein, The Luyas are another Montreal-based band with ties to Arcade Fire — former multi-instrumentalist, Pietro Amato, and current violinist, Sarah Neufeld make up two of the band’s four members.
This band’s new album Too Beautiful To Work is coming out soon (Feb. 22) on Dead Oceans, a label that’s part of that Secretly Canadian\Jagjaguwar\Dead Oceans trifecta. Whenever I get something in the mail from one of these three imprint, I know there’s a very good chance I’m going to like whatever record is inside. And for this record, the band enlisted Owen Pallett to compose string arrangements.
Also be sure to listen to their fantastic cover of Radiohead’s “Motion Picture Soundtrack,” which employs low brass in a really excellent way. It’s also got some very solid electronic-inspired poly-rhythmic percussion which helps make this amazing song their own.
I sure love a well executed cover song. Case in point: Holly Miranda‘s haunting rendition of Sparklehorse’s “Hundreds Of Sparrows.” Miranda, a member of the Detroit band Jealous Girlfriends, has been playing the song recently in her solo set. But on New Year’s Day, the singer-songwriter gave away a lo-fi recording of the song for free on her site.
What makes this song work so well is how she so skillfully paired away the late Mark Linkous’ trademark production, down to a lone finger-picked guitar, vocal harmonies and the building flourishes of a glockenspiel. It’s easy to load up a song with too many layers, but Miranda shows a lot of restraint. It’s a perfect and loving tribute that finds the both beauty and sadness in Linkous’ words.
For the past year I kept an ongoing list of nearly every cover song I came across — from live performances, YouTube clips, web series, compilations and charity albums and more. From that list I whittled it down to two 5-song lists during the year: a mid-year list Five Great Cover Songs From 2010 (So Far) and my year-end round-up of the 5 Best Cover Songs Of 2010.
Originally that final list was intended to be full-on top ten, but we cut it down to what I thought was the most essential. Here are the remaining five from that list:
Atlas Sound: “This Wheel’s On Fire” by Bob Dylan (from Bedroom Databank)
Atlas Sound‘s Bradford Cox has been among the most consistent and prolific artists in recent years. But in 2010 — a year that already saw the release of a gem of an album with Deerhunter, Halcyon Digest — Cox surprised everyone by dumping a whopping four volumes worth of bedroom demo tracks on his blog for free download. These Bedroom Databank recordings were certainly a treat for fans of his blend of ambient indie rock and experimental electronic music, yet it also stirred some controversy when Sony initially ordered him to remove the tracks. But what’s gotten somewhat lost is how great so many of these songs are, including the track that likely sparked the ordeal, a gorgeous cover of Bob Dylan and The Band‘s “This Wheel’s On Fire.” Here, Cox tempers the song in his trademark moody haze of noise and reverb, creating a ramshackle, if not melancholy version that both honors the original and repaints it in his image.
Jonsi: “Time To Pretend” by MGMT (from BBC session)
Taking a big, production-heavy pop song and winnowing it to the bare melodic essentials is harder than it might appear, especially when it’s MGMT, a band built around a huge sound. But in a March interview and performance session for BBC Radio 1, JÃ³nsi delivered a stunning solo piano reduction of MGMT’s big pop hit “Time To Pretend.” Even when stripped of its buoyant dance beats and infectious tapestry of electronics, the song remarkably holds up. But more impressive is the delicate yet soaring falsetto of JÃ³n Birgisson which establishes a somber yet lilting mood. Jonsi’s own music has always been transfixing and transporting, but with this cover, the enigmatic and joyful singer shows another side to his personality.
OMD: “VCR” by The xx (from digital single)
A lot of times a cover song serves as a way for an established band can show support to the next generation. That’s certainly has been true for artists like Bowie performing with TV on the Radio, Bruce Springsteen with Arcade Fire, or in this case, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark doing a cover of The xx‘s “VCR.” The minimal, icy music of The xx is very clearly influenced by ’80s pop and electronic artists, especially Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. So it’s not all that much of a surprise that OMD would both attempt this song, but also expand upon it with a subtle touch. While equally as stripped down as the original, OMD’s take is less detached and aided by the warm analog instrumentation and sweet crooning vocals of Andy McCluskey. It’s a satisfying expert rendition from the synth pop pioneers.
Portland Cello Project featuring Laura Gibson and John Moen: “Dazed And Confused” by Led Zeppelin (from From The Land Of Ice And Snow)
Compared to artists like The Beatles or Bob Dylan, the music of Led Zeppelin is rarely malleable and more difficult to make your own and still retain the band’s seething intensity and edge. So much of their identity comes from that searing, explosive energy, that no matter what an artist does, it often pales in comparison. What make so much of this year’s Zeppelin tribute record, From The Land Of Ice And Snow work is that many of the artists choose not to beat them, but join them in a smart way. “Dazed And Confused” stands out amongst other great renditions because of the way the Portland Cello Project and Laura Gibson play with the tension and release dynamics. With Gibson’s ghostly voice and strings that eerily swoop and trill down the neck, they build the anxiety and paranoia. Then with a cathartic burst from John Moen’s drums, the tension breaks. And with the wash of distorted cello riffs that mimic Jimmy Page’s most fearsome guitar solo, this version serves as an example of how to put a small sonic stamp on such distinctive classic.
Aloe Blacc: “Femme Fatale” by The Velvet Underground and Nico (from Good Things)
Aloe Blacc’s Good Things is one of the few recent soul records I’ve heard that doesn’t pretend to be of another time. Sure, his songs have those stylistic flavors — a steady back beat, a deep grooving bass line and some killer horn stabs. But it’s the way he pushes those ideas forward (see his killer single “I Need A Dollar”) rather than attempting to recapture a retro sound like many of his peers that gives his voice an extra weight. Aloe Blacc’s smoldering rendition of The Velvet Underground and Nico‘s “Femme Fatale” renders the song as a powerful soul ballad that could easily serve as the opening theme to a James Bond film. The song captures the intoxicating mystery, and even danger of falling for a beautiful woman, and heâ€™s helpless to stop himself. “Femme Fatale” is not only one of the record’s strongest songs, but it nearly tops the original by giving it a completely changed perspective.
I was fortunate to play on a track that was contributed to this album a few months back.. Someone saw a youtube video we put online from a show and asked that we record a studio version of the track for this Oxfam fundraiser. Donate and download here:
Track list / Artist list here: (I’m on Baby Birch by Sarah Katheryn)
1. Billy Bragg: “On a Good Day”
2. Josh Mann: “Bridges & Balloons”
3. M. Ward: “Sadie”
4. Ian Cooke: “Monkey & Bear”
5. The Moscow Coup Attempt: “Sprout and the Bean”
6. Owen Pallett: “Peach, Plum, Pear”
7. Joel Cathey: “Book of Right-On”
8. Melissa Stylianou: “Swansea”
9. Ben Sollee: “Sawdust & Diamonds”
10. Chris Leeds: “Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie”
11. This Is Deer Country: “Easy”
12. Francesco Santocono: “’81”
13. Guy Buttery: “Book of Right-On” (instrumental)
14. Ian Cooke: “Colleen”
15. Jennifer Schmitt: “This Side of the Blue”
16. Rosa Hinksman: “In California”
17. A Voice Heard on Baer Mountain: “Autumn”
18. White Elephant Gift Exchange: “Inflammatory Writ”
19. David Miele: “Soft as Chalk”
20. Sandhorse: “Flying a Kite”
21. Sarah Katheryn: “Baby Birch”
22. Kristina Forrer: “On a Good Day”
Anyone who knows me even a little knows that I love a great cover song. One that’s not only a great performance, but one that makes you hear the original in a new light. One of my favorites from this year so far is The Flaming Lips’ cover of Madonna’s “Borderline.”
I first heard The Lips play this song at that pretty mediocre Earth Day concert earlier this year and it was fun to hear, but much like the rest of the set, underwhelming.
The Flaming Lips’ version starts as a mellower approach to the song, dreamy and full of computerized glitches and chiming tones. But soon that epic noise rock side of the band really explodes, transforming it into a fantastic shoegazey stadium anthem. What I love about it is that it truly reinvents the song, peeling away the sheen and gauzey production of Madonna’s original and finding the nugget of a great pop song. Like most Madonna songs, this one is fully of great melodic hooks and really makes you appreciate the songcraft with fresh ears.
Take a listen here, and watch the great video that they made for it: