My bitter, more cynical mind likes to believe that bands hate awesome covers, that they sit and cowl as a youngling takes their work and brings it to a new generation with a cleaner voice, a brighter face, and a hipper beat. But that’s just me. (Sorry, I’ve always had a flair for the broad theatrical. Whatevs.healthcare.gov) This year, many of those supposedly cranky artists come from the ’80s, a decade that’s been examined, dissected, and beaten to a pulp by nostalgia for the last 15 years. How anyone managed to add a fresh spin on anything from that era of pastels, Wang Chung, and Don Johnson is admirable, to say the least.
But they did, and we’re reeling from it. Dancing even. So what you’re about to hear is a list of the cooler, more unique covers from 2013. Some might be obvious, but only because you, your friend, your parents, or your parents’ parents couldn’t shut up about them on Facebook all year. We can’t help you out there, but if you do have a few other obscure adds, let us know in the comments below. We’re always up for a great cover. Always.
10. Low – “Stay” (Rihanna)
Rare is the cover song that makes both the owner and the borrower look even better while staying completely loyal to its original arrangement. Rarer still is the song that, in stem form, just as easily could have ended up a great pop radio staple in 2013, or a great 1993 B-side from a now-middle-aged Mom-and-Dad couple who pioneered an indie rock sub-movement stamped “slowcore.” What we’ve come to realize about Low’s take on Rihanna’s piano ballad “Stay” since Alan Spearhawk and Mimi Parker first let it mindfuck half their audience at this year’s Pitchfork Festival – and sail way over the heads of the other half (guilty) – is that it’s not great in spite of hardly changing a single element, but because of that key detail. In the end, that still invokes the same delightful confusion as any successful cover, even those by similar artists nuking original arrangments: Who’s covering who? –Steven Arroyo
09. Okkervil River – “Dance Hall Days” (Wang Chung)
I’ve never been truly able to appreciate ’80s pop music, even from a fun, kitschy standpoint. It’s not the songs themselves, but the production: the overall tinniness, the shitty electronic drums. Thanks to Okkervil River, however, I’m now a fan of Wang Chung’s “Dance Hall Days”. Will Sheff and co. don’t futz too much with the diet New Wave hit; they just beef everything up, from the sugary keys to the spring break horns. In 2013, the retro stylings fit in perfectly alongside their songs from The Silver Gymnasium, a record that takes place just two years after the original “Dance Hall Days”‘ release. –Dan Caffrey