Shearwater - Fellow Travellers (***)
Like live albums and B-side compilations, cover version LPs usually occupy a fringe position in an artist’s discography, and Fellow Travellers is no different. But as far as stopgaps go – bridging last year’s Animal Joy and next year’s in-the-works follow-up – Shearwater’s ten-song tribute to/collaboration with past touring partners is more attractive than most.
Few recordings rival the originals, but usually offer something of interest: for example, a take on Xiu Xiu’s I Luv the Valley OH! doesn’t come close to the original’s intensity, but fashions a more conventional rock song out of the ingredients; similarly, St Vincent’s Cheerleader loses a lot of its poignancy in translation, but at least the gender switch invites new lyrical resonances. Less effective is a cover of Clinic’s Tomorrow, which smudges the original’s cold precision without subbing in any distinct character of its own, making Fellow Travellers a mixed bag in terms of quality as well as source material.
Destroyer - Five Spanish Songs (****)
With Dan Bejar’s piquant way with words a substantial part of Destroyer’s appeal, Five Spanish Songs may herald disappointment for those who don’t share the Canadian’s bilingual abilities. The result of waning interest in English’s expressive possibilities, it sees Bejar sing in the tongue of another in two senses – not only switching language, but covering songs by Seville songwriter Antonio Luque of Sr. Chinarro.
Still, even a relatively inessential Destroyer release stands head and shoulders above most else, and Five Spanish Songs is no different. Kaputt’s delectable lounge vibe cedes to a greater stylistic variety – from the glam-rock guitars of El Rito to the airy whisper of Bye Bye – and if the EP’s primary goal was to revitalise Bejar’s muse, its collateral pleasures are not inconsiderable.
Adrian Crowley & James Yorkston - My Yoke is Heavy: The Songs of Daniel Johnston (****)
Four years after its initial low-key release, Adrian Crowley and James Yorkston’s homage to Daniel Johnston is made widely available for the first time. With its parcel-taped sleeve and hand-written inlay, the original run’s presentation (99 CD-Rs sold at Fence’s Homegame festival) neatly befitted the music: eight evocative home-recordings that echo Johnston’s lo-fi tendencies whilst approximating his indelible mix of romanticism, surrealism and wistfulness.
The re-release may disperse some of that intimate, contextual aura, but otherwise the mini-album’s understated qualities remain sharp. Focussing on the decade in which Johnston’s legend was formed (i.e. the string of self-released cassettes and early studio dabblings produced in the 80s), Crowley and Yorkston imbue their reconstructions with nice atmospheric touches, from the echoes and vinyl crackle of True Love... to the clicks and whistles permeating Like a Monkey in a Zoo. Consequently the songs charm and haunt anew, making My Yoke is Heavy a joy for Johnston fans of all stripes.