It was a great year for covers if you were just kinda fuckin' around. Cee-Lo Green ribbed Broken Bells with his entendre-riddled reworking, the roster of Father/Daughter records had some fun bringing fiction to life on their inaugural Faux Real comp, and there was that whole Pizza Underground thing, and those artists that took their assignments seriously (and thus were deemed less eligible for clickbait) fell by the wayside.
In spite of this, there were a swath of covers worthy of being clickbaited, so we've assembled the best covers of 2014. You're welcome.
10. Sebadoh - "Limelight"
The A.V. Club's Undercover series has long been a reliable source for inventive, spur-of-the-moment covers. (Aside from that one time Parts and Labor totally fucked up "Runaway.") Watching lo-fi slouch rockers Sebadoh take on the canon of Canadian prog rockers Rush was uniquely surreal. The lack of the bass line and Lou Barlow's warbling vocal effect erase any trace of Geddy Lee's signature, though the Massachusetts indie legends' under-rehearsed reworking still retains the riffy backbone of the original. It's not the most pleasurable listen, but the creativity makes up for the discomfort.
9. Kina Grannis - "Chandelier"
"Chandelier" was up there with "Stay With Me" for the most covered song of 2014. Everyone from that twerp Trench from Vine to those twerps Us the Duo from Vine had their hand at Sia's disarming pop hit, but only cover song impresario Kina Grannis's take is worth mention. Much like she does in her the Neighbourhood cover from 2013, Grannis strips the song down to its barest components. Using only her succulent voice and an echoey acoustic guitar, she makes "Chandelier" feel delicate instead of defiant. It almost does more justice to the self-conscious lyrics than the original.
8. Cat Stevens/Yusuf - "You Are My Sunshine"
Interpreting a standard is hardly ever grounds for Cover of the Year consideration, but Yusuf Islam's utter reinvention of the "You Are My Sunshine" was something special. For his 14th studio album, the storyteller formerly (or currently, sort of) known as Cat Stevens injects his wise drifter blues into the timelessly corny ode to love. NPR opined the seasoned singer/songwriter's tact in restructuring the classic melody, because that's exactly what you'd expect NPR to do, but the truly striking element in Yusuf's cover is the sheer steeliness of it.
7. Robert Ellis - "Still Crazy After All These Years"
Paul Simon is kind of a template artist. His songs are easy covers to bend and squish into any style, which means they usually lose their original character in the process. This is not the case with Nashville revivalist Robert Ellis and his thoughtful second look at "Still Crazy After All These Years." The tune has all the belt-buckled and heel-spurred trappings of a country standard, but Simon's signature inflection is nicely preserved by Ellis. The piano box, lap steel, and prairie twang harmonize sweetly with Simon's poetic lyrics.
6. The Flaming Lips featuring Miley Cyrus and Moby - "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds"
Widely detested twerker-at-large Miley Cyrus is probably the last person you want to hear on your Beatles tribute records, but Wayne Coyne and the Flaming Lips had the vision to see that the pop turncoat would mesh perfectly with the Fab Four's psychedelic incantation. Her stargazing vocals homage Lennon's languid performance with topical aplomb, and the booming, crackling wall of noise that comes with the chorus is a nifty update to the 47-year-old ode to LSD. This cover is of course one of many on With a Little Help From My Fwends, Coyne and co.'s full-length revision of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but it is certainly the most fantastic and trippy imagination of the bunch, though it's not the only Beatles standard the Lips and Miley took on.
5. Local H - "Team"
Lorde's smoky popmaking ability leaves little room for improvement, but Illinois alt rockers Local H gave the prodigious songwriter's second Billboarder a little depth with their rendition of "Team." Hearing the 30-year vets sing "I'm kind of older than I was when I rebelled without a care" without irony adds a dimension the 17-year-old kiwi couldn't have mustered. Local H's version is dusty and punked up with snare drum, though there are moments of synchronicity with the original song (particularly the bridge) that let you know this tune is not their own.
4. First Aid Kit - "Love Interruption"
Triple J's Like a Version is, like Undercover, a wellspring of unexpected and great cover songs. Swedish duo First Aid Kit went further than most by opening their session with a spirited karaoke version of Tenacious D's "Tribute." Then, the Söderberg sisters transitioned into Blunderbuss's breakout track with their famous harmony, somehow besting the melodic interplay of Jack White and Ruby Amanfu with their own matching voices. First Aid Kit was, of course, born out of the YouTube cover song scene, becoming a sensation in their own right in 2014 with hits such as "Stay Gold" and "Waitress Song," but it's good to hear Johanna and Klara get back to their roots with such a strong entry.
3. Sam Smith - "Fast Car"
British high note artist Sam Smith broke out in a big way in 2014, but he shined brightest when he reached back to 1988 to slow down Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car." Smith is certainly prone to overdecorate his tracks, though his take on BBC's Radio 1 Lounge doesn't aim to take Chapman's stirring hit to a higher octave. In fact, Smith puts on the brakes in the song's typically whiplashed chorus. It's a moment of parity that melts the tension of the song's desperate circumstance. The added breath allows for some reflection, allowing the folk charter a poignant new perspective.
2. Sturgill Simpson - "The Promise"
Sturgill Simpson did country music a lot of favors with his aptly titled 2014 LP Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. He also did new wave a huge favor by totally revamping When In Rome's "The Promise." In his hands, the busy aural Traper Keeper transforms into a windswept ballad. The succession of apologies sound earnest when escaping Simpson's throat, and the sparse guitars and reclusive percussion move the countryman's croon into the spotlight. Simpson's sudden, emotional swelling in the song's denouement gives the one-hit wonder a tearful moment that resonates more deeply than the 1988 single ever could.
1. Marissa Nadler - "Pitseleh"
Marissa Nadler originally covered Elliott Smith's "Pitseleh" back in 2013, but she formalized her ode to indie's drabbest icon on her March EP Before July. It is with her gothic charm that Nadler takes on the Smith favorite, layering echoes on top of her pale croon and an elegiac organ. In comparison to Juliana Hatfield's take on "Needle in the Hay," Nadler i more devoted to the source material. She's careful not to step on Smith's arrangement while incorporating her undeniable style. It's almost a shame that this spooky second look didn't make it to her criminally undersold full-length "July."
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