THEIR BATED BREATH | 10 Best Covers of 2011

Illustration by David D. Robbins Jr. / Click on the image above to go to list.
A link to the image w/out the typography.

10. St. Vincent “She Is Beyond Good and Evil” (The Pop Group)

As silly as it sounds, often the first step in making a good cover is to find a good song. My usual thinking is you have to take a great song and destroy it, deconstruct it, manipulate it and make it your own, or you can take a mediocre song and make it better, or you take a great song and play it exact but more beautiful than the original and with more feeling. In this case, Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) takes the free-form, punk-dub classic, “She Is Beyond Good and Evil”, with it’s Nietzschean nod, love thrusts, and exaltation of power in unification and not selling out. St. Vincent changes up the original lyrics slightly, “My love was born on a ray of sound … / Our only defense is to gather as an army / I’ll hold you like a gun.”

9. Les Demoniaques “Teenage Lust” (The Jesus & Mary Chain)

There’s a little Bauhaus edge to Les Demoniaques’ take on a well-known Jesus & Mary Chain track, “Teenage Lust”. It’s drugged-out and hypnotic. The band is made up of Tamaryn and Dum Dum Girls’ Dee Dee Penny. The recording was the debut of the band, and the cover came on a one-sided postcard flexi limited to 1,000 copies. So, you either bought this one, or you’re out of luck.

8. Sharon Van Etten “Like a Diamond” (Glass Ghost)

This is a perfect pairing. Sharon’s lush voice and the simple, swaying arrangement fits her moody vocals as much as her own music. The original version featured Glass Ghost lead vocalist Eliot Krimsky’s silvery smooth falsetto. He plays Wurlitzer on this version, with Mike Johnson on drums. You can still pick this cover up for free at this link provided by the artist.

7. Porcelain Raft “Come As You Are” (Nirvana)

Porcelain Raft buries the vocals in echoed reverb, drags the song into a kind of hazy narcotization, adding texture and ambiance through warped pulsations, sonic guitar and howling backing vocals. This version keeps the melody, but toys with the pace and adds layer upon beautiful layer.

6. Bell “Are You That Somebody?” (Aaliyah)

Coming on the heels of her 2011 album, “Diamonite”, Bell (aka Olga Bell) created this slick, synthed-out, glitchy version of Aaliyah’s track, that does justice to the original, adding a flourish or two of her own.

5. Conner Youngblood “Will You Be There” (Michael Jackson)

Okay, so most of us remember this as the syrupy soundtrack to the film “Free Willy”. But Youngblood goes all Bon Iver on it. It’s a wonder this guy hasn’t been scooped up by a label, even as troubled as the industry is. His take on Michael Jackson’s classic, “Will You Be There”, is a real beauty with light banjo, restrained piano, hushed vocals, and meditative warped loops.

4. James Blake “A Case of You” (Joni Mitchell)

I’ve never been a big Joni fan. But I seem to enjoy covers of her songs, including Blake’s exquisite high-falsetto version of “A Case of You” — and Richard Thompson’s still stunning re-creation of “Woodstock”— one of the greatest covers I’ve ever heard. Blake’s doesn’t reach that level, but it is lovely. Before you begin e-mailing me, yes I’ve listened to a lot of Joni and I understand why fans love her. But I just can’t take a study diet of her. But I do enjoy many of her songs.

3. 9Mary “Dead Meat” (Sean Lennon)

Simply put, this cover is astounding. And that’s saying a lot considering 9Mary’s (aka Flo Morrissey) versions of Tuxedomoon’s “In a Manner of Speaking” and Morrissey’s “Irish Blood, English Heart” could easily have made this list. Obviously, she’s blessed with serious pipes, but there’s real heart in her cover of “Dead Meat”. Her sharp, high-pitched vocal is the sharpened knife, her ragged and rough guitar the serrated edge that gives the song real menace. It’s sheer mastery. My apologies to Lennon, but I’ve come to think of 9Mary’s as the real version. There is something intriguing about his prettified sound running counter to the lyricism. But Flo’s style seems to match the song’s intent even better.

2. Bon Iver “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin)

This song was made famous by Bonnie Raitt. Bon Iver (aka Justin Vernon) turned “I Can’t Make You Love Me” into one of the best covers I’ve heard. And as you can see by this list, there’s only one better this year. His piano playing is elegant and drips with lovelorn sadness. His high falsetto, and unique vocal abilities are two of music’s gifts over the past few years. Treat yourself to a beautiful track this holiday, and press play above: “‘Cuz I can’t make you love me, if you don’t / You can’t make your heart feel somethin’ it won’t.”

1. Chocolate Genius “Factory” (Martha Wainwright)

Okay, so this may be a bit of a cheat. I think this cover was taped in November of 2010, and first appeared online in the last week of December 2010. But a lot of people haven’t heard it, and should. This is how you take a song, keep it virtually the same as the original, but breathe new life into it. How does he do it? Heart, that’s how. It’s a stunner, but I’ve come to expect no less from one of the greatest least-heard artists around: “These are not my people, I should never have come here / A chick with a dick and a gift of the gab / ‘Cuz I know a place, and I’ve seen a face / I’ll take the coast from factory to factory / And all these nights that I’ve been all alone, / And on my window the moonlight is shown / On my walls the fire it danced / Playing out my very last chance … to run.”


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