In every reviewer’s career, there’s always a very sharp axe inside a glass case. This case has a little chain with a Rod Stewart shaped hammer attached, ready to smash it. It’s the golden axe +5 reserved for cover albums. Many an artist resort to the “classics” or “the great American notebook” when they are strapped for cash or need a little release out to remind the fidgety punters that they exist. Exceptions exist, like Neil Diamond or Johnny Cash‘s later output.
And then, there’s another species of cover albums. One that no axe shall even frown upon because it’s not a cynical cash grab for nostalgia glazed with sugary arrangements. Sun Kil Moon did it with Tiny Cities, Grant Lee Phillips perfected it with Nineteeneighties and now Mike Kinsella, aka Owen, does it too with the mixtape like Other People’s Songs.
With eight songs, we get an intimate look into some of Kinsella’s musical influences, comrades and relatives. The fact that some of these bands are terribly underrated (The Promise Ring, Blake Babies, Lungfish) makes this album even sweeter. I don’t mean to justify Other People’s Songs so much to be an obscurantist , I mean it as it’s another opportunity for these bands to get a fresh group of fans.
Lungfish‘s ‘Descender’ is transformed into a expansive Owen piece that could’ve fit incognito in Ghost Town. The devastating ‘Girl in a box’ by Blake Babies changes little but it needn’t to do so; the song’s background still is a very sour story. The delicious ‘Forget Me’ by The Promise Ring becomes a sweet country ditty, violin and all.
Now, for people who’ve been asking “who are these bands?“, there are a few familiar names that come hand in hand with some of their lesser known gems. Depeche Mode’s fantastic ‘Judas’ (from the instant classic Songs of Faith and Devotion) loses the swelling keys and synths, replacing them for strumming and sparse piano notes that keep the solemnity of the original track while painting it in a different colour. Against me!‘s ‘Borne on the FM Waves of the heart’ keeps the dual vocal approach of the original in a more “brown and orange foliage” setting. It’s the sound of autumn receding and giving way to winter.
Autumn leaves, winter winds. That’s a good way to sum up this album, mostly devoid of loudness , except for the cool electric guitar in ‘Under the blanket’. You don’t need loudness here when you have the power of a warm acoustic guitar and an emotional, honest vocal delivery as summed up in ‘Just like them’, the album’s clear winner. This is the moment in a mixtape when you hope the recipient has fallen in love with the bands you carefully chose to put. If that was the intention, then it’s fair to say this release should give you at least a crush on the bands covered, even if your heart should belong to Mike Kinsella.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López