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Five on it: why there’s always comfort in a cover song

From Joy Crookes to Biffy Clyro, why have cover songs both great and silly become such a reassuring staple lately? Plus a round-up of some of the best releases of the week featuring Pa Salieu, Hira, Shygirl, Che Lingo and Nilüfer Yanya.

23 Oct 2020

Five on it imagery: composite artist photos from YouTube

If you’re feeling overwhelmed (at best) lately, that’s no surprise. Bad news keeps rolling in around the globe but, unlike in normal times, we can’t be there to hold one another through it all. Instead, we are more plugged in than ever and the privilege of switching off from the news and social media for a minute to look after yourself can feel selfish. Solidarity with everyone who is enduring suffering, frustration and fear right now.

Music can offer some kind of comfort in these times – not least when married with nostalgia, harking back to simpler moments that are fond, fuzzy and warm around the edges. Maybe this is why artists have been releasing more cover songs than normal this year. Creativity feels difficult to spark when not that much is stimulating us, but retracing the lines of a familiar piece of art can light something up in us – for musicians, it stands to reason that cover songs are a fulfilling way to tap into creativity right now. 

There is Joy Crookes bringing softness and sweetness with her cover of The Wannadies ‘You and Me Song’; Miley Cyrus and her strangely alluring mullet are bringing the noise with the promise of a Metallica cover album and her recent Cranberries cover; Big Joanie releasing their grunge-y and cathartic take on ‘Cranes In The Sky’ at last. Also, I am making the case for Biffy Clyro’s Live Lounge cover of ‘WAP’ being worthy of a mention, even if it obviously wasn’t nostalgic (and also was Not Good), because it brought us all together for a laugh.

Anyway, some of my all-time favourite songs are covers or reworks (‘Killing Me Softly With His Song’, anyone?) so this is just to shout out an artform that can bring as much greatness as the original creator did. Whether they’re a bit silly or actually better than the first version, cover songs can be a pleasant tool for escape, which feels very needed right now.

And now, here is Five on it.

Hira – ‘Don’t Question It!’ / ‘Just When I’

Angular hits of guitar and drum, silky plumes of vocals, effervescent synths; Hira is bringing a fresh take on glorious new jack swing and I am so ready for it. The Paul Institute-affiliate’s latest two tracks are full of smooth, future-facing vitality and make me very excited for what this rising British-Asian artist has lined-up next. 

Shygirl – ‘SLIME’

If you’re not deeply thrilled about all things Shygirl, you have not been listening. Strange, fascinating, spooky, sexy, the electronic soundscapes swirl and pulse around her as she delivers her breathy party vocals. But wow, it makes me crave the club.

Pa Salieu – ‘B***K’

This is truly the Coventry king’s year! Everything he has put out is gold, and on ‘B***K’ he continues to shine. It’s in the way the beats shift and slide beneath him, while he delivers lyrics celebrating Blackness with that easy, confident catchiness he seems to thrive in. At under two minutes, my only complaint is that it leaves me wanting more. 

Che Lingo – The Worst Generation

The debut album from the South London rapper is here and it’s as beautifully imaginative, slick  and poignant as you’d hope. As ever, Che doesn’t fit neatly in a box, and his debut switches up sonics and delivery consistently, showing off a deft creative prowess, moving between smooth and abrasive with ease while putting forth necessary political commentary. It’s an impressive set that’s as au fait with boundary-pushing UK sounds, as it is US ones, creating something celebratory but incisive. 

Nilüfer Yanya – ‘Crash’

“If you ask me one more question, I’m about to crash” is one of the refrains on this latest track from Nilüfer and, honestly, it feels like a big mood right now. Everything feels overwhelming, but luckily this song soothes with its bath of scuzzy instruments, the propulsive, airy beat and the stirring lilt of her vocal.

You can follow gal-dem’s Five on it playlist on Spotify: