15 Tracks That Prove 2021 Is the Year of the Cover Song
Including Lido Pimienta, Orville Peck, Nap Eyes, Myles Castello and more
Published Jul 08, 2021With touring off the table, fans to entertain and an algorithm that demands a steady flow of fresh content, many artists have been releasing remixes or cover songs in 2021. We're only halfway through the year and we've already seen a huge wave of covers collections, tribute albums and one-off releases.
Even if these cover tunes were made out of necessity by artists attempting to remain viable during the pandemic, they have yielded some beautiful results. From hyper-local celebrations of Canadian communities to fresh renditions of ultra-famous songs, here are the best cover songs of 2021 so far.
Black Country, New Road
"Time to Pretend" (MGMT)
After their remarkable 2021 debut, English post-rockers Black Country, New Road passed themselves the torch of their hipster forebears, MGMT, with a cover of their early-aughts era-defining "Time to Pretend." Employing a host of stringed instruments and Conor Oberst-style vocals, the seven-piece strip away the song's synth-pop origins to reveal an earnest tune about a group of youngsters on the verge of rock superstardom — only without all the American Apparel and glow sticks.
"A Change Is Gonna Come" (Sam Cooke)
Sam Cooke's original might be the great work in the history of recorded music — no exaggeration — but Toronto R&B singer Myles Castello retains the passion of "A Change Is Gonna Come" while also giving it his own mellow, groovy spin. It comes from Black Alliance Vol. 1, a covers EP that features fellow Canadians Just John, Charmaine, jacksoul and more.
"Losing a Whole Year" (Third Eye Blind)
After the trash fire that was 2020, Oshawa songwriter Chastity suggests it might be better to forget the entire year with a moody — and timely — cover of a '90s pop classic. It's a perfect send-off to a year filled with rage, death and injustice, and Brandon Williams' moody emo vocals are the perfect vessel to effortlessly overwrite whatever the hell Third Eye Blind had to whine about back in 1997.
Days before releasing their debut LP New Long Leg, rising UK post-punks Dry Cleaning shifted their attention to a slow and hazy rework of 2012's breakthrough single "Oblivion." The Grimes cover arrived as part of Bills & Aches & Blues EP3, one part of a 40th-anniversary compilation series from 4AD's current roster covering songs from the label's discography.
"Chancellor" (Gord Downie)
This quiet classic from Gord Downie's solo catalogue gets a harp-kissed rework thanks to Jenn Grant. The lullaby-like quality of "Chancellor" is emphasized by an opening snippet of a crying baby. It's miles away from the rock the Tragically Hip were usually known for, and the song is made all the more beautiful by its understated delicacy.
"Warning Sign" (Coldplay)
Continuing their tradition of covers EPs, Hovvdy released a fresh collection of reworked classics by Charlie XCX, Paramore and Frou Frou moments before the ball dropped on New Year's Eve. Ushering in the new year most affectingly was their country-tinged indie cover of Coldplay's A Rush of Blood to the Head standout "Warning Sign." While Chris Martin and company may be everyone's favourite band to hate, you can't help but love this 2021 update.
"Just What I Needed" (The Cars)
Ever wondered what the Cars' giddy power-pop would sound like with a little extra crunch on the guitar and a couple of rap verses? This cover version might be, ahem, just what you needed.
"Hard on You" (Daniel Romano)
Mo Kenney's simply titled Covers album features stripped-down acoustic versions of some well-known classics by Stone Temple Pilots, the Magnetic Fields and Guided by Voices — but for a slightly more niche treasure, check out this sweetly haunting cover of Daniel Romano's twangy rhinestone country ballad "Hard on You" (from 2011's Sleep Beneath the Willow).
"Burst-Neighbourhood Song" (Veda Hille)
This mashup of two Veda Hille songs, "Burst" and "Neighbourhood Song," takes listeners on a voyeuristic tour of East Vancouver, culminating a long list of local characters including nuns, recycling box thieves and even k.d. lang. Of all the covers that appear on Nicholas Krgovich's 16-track tribute album This Spring: Songs of Veda Hille, this is perhaps the most tender (and certainly the most quintessentially Vancouver).
Le Ren & Buck Meek
"Early Morning Rain" (Gordon Lightfoot)
Releasing through Royal Mountain Records and Secretly Canadian, the Montreal-based folk singer and Big Thief guitarist offer up an emotionally vulnerable, country-tinged rework of Lightfoot's time-honoured 1966 original.
"When I Come Around" (Green Day)
Pop-punk goes ultra-mellow in this bleary cover of a Dookie classic by East Coast combo Nap Eyes, who reinvent the Green Day anthem with slow-paced acoustic guitar and weeping pedal steel. They also covered Bonnie Raitt on this year's When I Come Around EP.
Montreal shoegazers No Joy reworked songs from last year's Motherhood on an orchestral EP titled Can My Daughter See Me from Heaven. That collection also includes a sighing cover of Deftones' weirdo electro ballad "Teenager," which drifts gently with heavenly harps and echoing ambiance.
"Born This Way" (Lady Gaga)
Just in time for Pride Month, Lady Gaga enlisted a gaggle of fellow queer icons to cover tunes from 2011's Born This Way for its 10th anniversary reissue. Putting his country spin (and markedly more progressive lyrics) on the title track's "Country Road" version is homegrown heartthrob Orville Peck.
"Declare Independence" (Björk)
This rallying cry against oppression — drawn from Björk's criminally underrated 2007 album Volta — gets an overhaul with Spanish lyrics and Afro-Caribbean beats. Lido Pimienta's layered, lush vocals add harmonies and textures largely absent from the original.
"Elephant" (Tame Impala)
They say you can't improve on perfection — and yet, here we are, with the Wiggles' keytar-anchored cover of "Elephant" for Triple J's Like a Version. Who knew that, all this time, the only thing holding Kevin Parker back from ascending to the next plane of musical excellence was a little "Fruit Salad!"