I'm not a fan of cover bands, but I've always enjoyed it when great local bands take a break from their original material and just have fun with a song they love. It feels good. It's also a tradition in the long history of rock and pop. There were a lot of cool covers this year, but these were the 10 I kept coming back to again and again.
10. Doomed To Bloom - "Welcome To New York" (Taylor Swift)
Doomed To Bloom made a fairly impressive three-song EP debut called 1995 this year, and it finishes with a cover of Taylor Swift's "Welcome To New York." This is clearly one of the covers where extreme liberties are taken and the song is transformed into a minimalist synth number that feels that it owes as much to krautrock and The Magnetic Fields or The Gothic Archies more than it does Taylor Swift. Swift's song is certainly still there, but this has an infectious weird hook all to its own. One thing is for sure, Stephin Merritt would be proud of this art pop take on the song, as well as its deconstruction. Looking forward to what this outfit does next year.
9. Merit - "My Favourite Chords" (The Weakerthans)
Hot Vodka Records put together a compilation album to help raise money for The Trevor Project, a nonprofit founded in 1998 focused on suicide prevention efforts among queer youth. Merit contributes a cover of The Weakerthans' "My Favourite Chords" that, for my money, is better than the original. It is an interesting turn and a pure delight to hear Merit slow things down, unplug a bit, discard the emo mantle for a moment, and make this song as disarming as it is charming. I had to listen to it back to back with the original a few times after this was released, because while I loved the entire Left and Leaving album, my first reaction was that this outshines the original, maybe for its soft simplicity and touching sentimentality. It may not have the slide guitar of the original, but it has a cozy warmth that more than makes up for it.
8. Jackson Dife - House of the Rising Sun (Traditional)
When Jackson Dife recently leaked their cover of "House of the Rising Sun" my first thought was, "Wow, that's been done to death." So I gave it a spin and I smiled wide. To be honest, if Eddie Vedder circa Vitalogy had done a cover of "House of the Rising Sun" it would probably sound a lot like this. It reaches in the roots of the blues song from which it was born. Chris DeGreen's voice is wild here, as powerful as it is vulnerable. It's difficult to tell if that's what's in the spotlight or if it's Adam Price's searing guitar throughout. Either way, this song may be done to death, but I'm damn glad Jackson Dife did it anyway. They really turn this song into a complete rager by the time they're done with it.
7. Nerdzerker - "Egg Raid on Mojo" (The Beastie Boys)
Last August, Related Records released a tribute album to the early punk and hardcore catalog of The Beastie Boys called Where's The White Shadow, and it's completely fun from beginning to end. Before I even looked at the track listing when it came out I was busting at the seams to hear whoever covered "Egg Raid on Mojo" and couldn't have been more thrilled that it was Nerdzerker. "Egg Raid On Mojo" was the final song on The Beastie Boys Pollwog Stew EP, and it's always been my favorite from their early career. I knew Nerdzerker would nail it in the traditional sense and they did, except of course this sounds like it's slightly better produced than the original. I would advise checking out the rest of the compilation. I wanted to keep this list down to one song per collection in cases like this.
6. MRCH - "Love Is Strange" (Mickey & Sylvia)
Going for complete reinvention we have possibly the only song that MRCH released this year that no one noticed. I'm not even sure MRCH said anything about it, actually. I found it randomly a couple months ago when I went to listen to their EP. This take on the Mickey & Sylvia classic "Love Is Strange" is as reimagined as possible, turning into a dreamy, synth pop number. In fact, the first time I heard it, I wasn't paying attention and I didn't even know what song it was until the end. They've completely deconstructed it and made it their own. As far as I'm concerned this song is just further proof that MRCH could do no wrong this year, and here they transform a pop classic into a gauzy dreamland of ephemeral sound. Someone should get this to David Lynch.
5. Watch For Rocks - "I Want To Break Free" (Queen)
I also love local covers when it's from a band I haven't heard from in a while, and in this case it's Watch For Rocks covering Queen's "I Want To Break Free." I remember being impressed with them covering this live a few years back, but I never expected them to lay it down in the studio, since most bands don't bother recording their covers no matter how good they may be. The song has always been a favorite of the band's, especially with the fact that MTV banned the music video for the song, as all the band members were dressed in full drag. It is pretty ironic since the song is an anthem against oppression. Watch For Rocks takes a "rockier" edge, doing away with the synth solo and replacing it with guitar instead. The results are pretty great. Lead singer Sarah Robinson delivers a great vocal that is languid, easy on the soul, and a bit sultry. The other star of the show here is Danny Foley's bass guitar, which plays here like a lead instrument, more than rhythmic accompaniment.
4. decker. - "These Old Shoes" (Deer Tick)
Earlier this year at the start of all the Snake River Blues action, decker. recorded a magnificent evening at Last Exit Live which was released as a live album last April and included two songs from the then unreleased EP, but it also contained a couple of covers as well. Of the two, Deer Tick's "These Old Shoes" stands out. The other cover was Modest Mouse's "Bukowski," but it's this one I will stream immediately if it plays in my head. It's one of the finest moments on a live album that is filled with damn fine moments.
3. Citrus Clouds — "Christine" (House of Love)
House Of Love never quite translated to American audiences. But in the rest of the world they are regarded with the same esteem as The Jesus & Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, and Echo & The Bunnymen. The Blog That Celebrates Itself just dropped a tribute compilation, Soft As Fire In The House of Love, and they asked local shoegazers Citrus Clouds to lend a track to the project. The band contributed a loving and surprisingly accurate version of "Christine," which in 1988 was House of Love's breakout single abroad. Musically speaking, Citrus Clouds nails the track nearly note for note. The only thing missing here is Guy Chadwick's baritone lead vocals, but if that was here it would be a dead ringer for the original. Citrus Clouds already sound like several of my favorite bands from the shoegaze era; it's pretty fantastic to hear them cover one of them.
2. Harper and the Moths - "Somebody's Watching Me" (Rockwell)
On Halloween Harper and the Moths release a five-track collection of '80s hits called Mixtape. Later that same day they released a video for one of the best covers found on the collection, Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me." The band achieves a sense of homage while maintaining its musical identity. It should come as no surprise then that the video for "Somebody's Watching Me" achieves the same goal, using the original MTV hit video as its roadmap. They re-enact every nearly every moment of the video, but they use members of the band and add their own style. Harper Lines never gets as weirdly ghoulish or creepy as Rockwell did in the original, but his vocal here is freakishly great, not to mention Kelsee Ishmael's work in place of Michael Jackson on the original. Harper and the Moths are always a class act, and this video on top of the entire Mixtape is utterly smooth.
1. House of Stairs - "Across The Universe" (The Beatles)
To the best of my knowledge House of Stairs released only one thing this year and it was this cover of The Beatles "Across The Universe." I have been eagerly anticipating new music from this outfit and while this may not be their original, this is absolutely mind-blowing and original in its own way. This is a showering spotlight for the magnificent voice of Holly Pyle, who is one of the finest vocalists in this town. The reinvention of a song that's become such a standard comes to the listener like a revelation. I get goosebumps every time she sings "Jai guru deva om." The lovely minimalist arrangement so deconstructed that it leaves only the lattice work of the song intact while Pyle's voice and the various percussion weaves around it like a morning glory vine climbing in the night.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.