BEST 2014 INDIE COVERS OF 2014...SO FAR
Rock music has a time-honored tradition of artists copying or covering the songs of those who came before them. Contemporaries even sometimes cover each other, and now with the prevalence of Fruity Loops and Ableton, any aspiring teenage trap producer can remix his or her favorite songs with minimal effort. In the indie scene, whole bands have made a decent living covering the entire discography of famous bands; think The Gabba Gabba Heys and Dread Zepplin.
If I had to name a favorite cover, one that – and I know this is heresy – is even better than the original, it would have to be Catherine Wheel’s cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” Before you lynch me, check it:
Pink Floyd are legends creatively and I almost deify Roger Waters, but Rob Dickinson’s delicate yet emotive voice and phrasing just suit these lyrics better in my opinion. Brian Futter’s swelling slide guitar also takes the relatively minimalist song to another level, so bite me ok? It’s fucking fantastic.
I digress, however, as we’re here to discuss our favorite covers for 2014 so far. It seems they have been coming stronger and faster than usual this year, and there are already a lot of good ones, so here we go.
BIRDY - SKINNY LOVE (BON IVER COVER)
Right at the top of the list, here is a cover that is both of a contemporary artist, and is better than the original. I like exactly one song by Bon Iver (not this one), and I’m pretty sure that the only reason I like it is because it’s the hamstring stretching song in my Yoga class, and I really like stretchin’ my hammies. Incidentally this Birdie cover has also been in Yoga in the past few weeks; I believe it’s the twisting series. Now generally Birdy can kinda suck it as well, but I really like this cover. There’s something very 60s folk about it the way Birdy and/or her producers have arranged the song, and her tiny Mezzo seems like it was made for the lyrics. Judge for yourself, but I’m pretty sure I’m right, yoga or no yoga:
DANIELA ANDRADE - CRAZY (GNARLS BARKLEY COVER)
Even 8 years out, some of us may still be experiencing shell shock from the popularity and played-outness of this Gnarls Barkley song, but let’s be honest: it was a pretty original track. Combining Danger Mouse’s electro-funk and Cee-Lo Green’s soul, it was at the very least different in an era of Hip Hop and R&B that was mind-numbingly devoid of anything unique. Daniela Andrade has taken the funk out of the track completely, but kept Cee-Lo’s lyrical soul phrasing while adding a wisp of vintage blues guitar. The result, paired with her timid but bell-clear voice is straddling the border between blues and folk in a precarious yet charming way. It turns power funk into delicate and pensive neo-blues in the blink of a heavily lashed and feminine eye. Good on her:
CHVRCHES – BELA LUGOSI'S DEAD (BAUHAUS COVER)
Ok hear me out before your heads explode, 80s emogoth fans: I know this seems like more sacrilege, especially given the fact that it’s sung by two whispy-voiced chicks rather than our beloved Peter Murphy. And also especially since the song was created for the new super-lame tween show, Vampire Academy – you know what, there are a lot of especiallys on this one, ok? If you can possibly look past all that (and I don’t blame you if you can’t), it’s actually not a bad little tune.
Let’s start with this: I really didn’t think it was possible to make this classic of classic Bauhaus songs any more 80s and emo, but Chvrches have managed to do it. The super-80s keys and girly voices manage to make the backing track enough of a departure from the original that you may not want to stab said girly voices. Also, far be it from me to be optimistic about today’s youth, but everywhere I’ve seen the track listed has had a parenthetical reference to Bauhaus. Maybe we can hope that because of this the little angst-ridden teenyboppers will look up Bauhaus and gain some appreciation for real emo? Maybe they will even look up Bela Lugosi and get a glimpse into what a real vampire is supposed to look like pre-Twilight. We can dream can’t we? Either way, try to keep an open mind:
FALCONE - ARE YOU THAT SOMEBODY (AALIYAH COVER)
Believe it or not, I’m more emotionally attached to the integrity of this track than any of the other classics we’ve discussed. Why? Partially because Aaliyah is dead (yes I know, so is Bela Lugosi), and I think her body of work should be respected, and partially because this particular track was so unique and cutting-edge for its time. The combination of hard bass beats and a soft, pretty voice hadn’t really been explored much in that way until Timbaland and Aaliyah partnered up. I think, then, that as with many covers, we have to look at a cover like this that is so stylistically different with an even more open mind than with a more copycat-style cover.
That’s what we have here with Falcone; a piece which is so far detached from the original that if you didn’t know it was an Aaliyah cover, you might appreciate it on its own. Falcone’s own style is very prevalent here; the backing track is M83 meets Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” while the vocals are an odd Frank Sinatra vibrato. One could be forgiven for thinking Falcone were trying to be ironic or snarky with this cover, singing R&B lyrics in a crooner style. There’s no lack of hipster cache to Falcone in general, but in this case I think the track works. If anything it’s definitely different, and it’s pretty in its own way, completely separate from Aaliyah. So, pull up your thong over your skirt and check out this cover:
ASGIER - WRECKING BALL (MILEY CYRUS COVER)
Well, in my opinion, it would be impossible for almost any artist not to improve upon this ghastly song. Even the Ron Jeremy full satire version was better than the original. At least it was funny:
I was a little torn about this one at first, because I’m not much into the one dude, one guitar model that many people, including our illustrious editor, seem to love. I’m also particularly suspicious of covers done in this style, because it can seem like a bit of a cop-out. In Asgier’s case, he brings a sensitivity and longing to the track that was sorely missing from Cyrus’ rendition, or at least it couldn’t be found because we were all too busy trying to wash out our eyes after seeing her give the clap to a poor, innocent wrecking ball. When stripped down and sung by someone who’s not an incessant whiskey-gargler, the lyrics are quite beautiful, and Asgier thus gives a little bit of dignity to them.
JULIE LOSFELT - FLOW (SADE COVER)
When it comes to covering Sade, there’s not a lot of different places an artist can go. I suppose you could punk it out, or make it into a growling metal track, but if you’re not trying to make fun of Madame Easy Listening, you’re probably going to have to stick to a similar style to hers. Julie Losfeit has managed to make her version of “Flow” her own in some more subtle ways, however. The timbre of her voice is quite a bit more brassy than Sade’s (it would have to be when I was a kid I thought Sade was a man) with an upward lilt that takes the vocals closer to purist R&B rather than Caribbean yoga music. The backing track also has less smooth jazz to it and more R&B/funk in the drums and bass, so what we end up with is a true cover: a song which pays homage to the original artist’s vision and style while tweaking it creatively towards the covering artist’s own zone.
GEMS - DON'T CRY (SEAL COVER)
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed about which “Don’t Cry” this was. I think it would be awesome to hear a Gems cover of the Guns n’ Roses song of the same name. Now that would be a creative challenge for these sappy little indie band. Given the material they’ve chosen, however, I think they did quite well with it. I’m not totally against Seal, but this song was never a favorite – a little boring and commercial, even for him. With their indie street cred, however, GEMS have managed to take this banal chart-filler up a level, and while it’s still sappy, it’s definitely got a little bit more soul to it. It’s interesting to me that GEMS have injected a little bit of soul (soul the music, not soul the abstract concept of why we’re here) into both the vocals and backing track, making it a little more Ella Fitzgeraldish somehow. Take a listen and see if you can spot what I mean:
BASTILLE & GABRIELLE ALPIN - DREAMS (FLEETWOOD MAC COVER)
Apparently this cover was released in 2012, but in our opinion it didn’t get nearly enough play at that time, so we’re putting it to the front of the 2014 covers queue. “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac is another one of those classic songs that, if you’re going to cover it, you’d better be damn confident that it’s going to turn out well. In this case, “well” doesn’t even cover it.
I’m not a huge Bastille fan - seems like a bit of a tool if you ask me, both musically and as a person. Somehow he really shines, however - with the help of Gabrielle Alpin - while covering something that is already widely regarded as an untouchable masterpiece. This cover is definitely a departure, and as I said in previous sections, I think that’s a good idea when dealing with classics such as this to take it in a different direction so that it can stand on its own as a work and not be compared too harshly. In Bastille’s version of “Dreams,” the musical track is very minimal, but also thoroughly electronic, and an almost completely new tune is built into the vocal track. The vocals themselves are largely untouched, with just a few tempo changes to match the backing track, and of course with the addition of Gabrielle Alpin as the second vocal. You really just have to hear this one, and hopefully you’ll agree that it’s one of the best covers of a classic song we’ve ever heard
SATURDAY LOOKS GOOD TO ME - EVERYTHING IS EMBARRASSING (SKY FERRERIA COVER)
Want to learn how to emo up a pop song? Saturday Looks Good to Me should teach a class. Sky Ferreria’s original is pretty bad-ass; tolerable indie pop worthy of Hackpad. Saturday Looks Good to Me take it to another level with this prettier and more soulful version. There’s little left of the original, save the actual lyrics in this cover. The tempo, timbre, and musical backing have all been changed to create a 50s-inspired cowboy rockabilly feel with some echoey atmospherics added in for good hipster measure. This cover is actually aptypical of Saturday Looks Good to Me, which is normally a little more pop itself, but still with the retro feel. It just goes to show that a good cover can inspire an artist to move outside their comfort zone in order to do homage or create a different take on a song.
Our “best of covers” promises to grow exponentially over the coming year if we already have this many excellent ones. Even if we’re emotionally attached to the original song, it’s fun to listen to covers and either become infuriated at the cover band not doing it justice, or enjoy the cover as its own thing. Either way, it opens us up to thinking about music and discussing, even if it’s to totally lambast the offending piece. Whether covers are meant to pay tribute to a great artist, take a set of lyrics in a completely different direction, or even be ironic or poke fun, they seem to bring out another side of a musical act. We hope you enjoy this list and check back for more covers later in the year.
About Layla Marino
Layla Marino is a music and street art blogger with 17 years in the industry. She focuses exclusively on underground music, art, and culture, and loves working with BitCandy to find and bring new artists to a wider audience.