Various Artists | SC100 (Secretly Canadian)

cd_sc100Each artist covers another member of the SC family, with assignments determined "via the ol' names-in-a-hat method," according to the album's press sheet.






It goes without saying that the traditional rock covers album is guaranteed bargain bin fodder. The sound of a performer affecting another artist's voice can range from enjoyably kitschy to outright tragic, but rarely does it captivate the ears. Writing a good song takes some talent, but covering a good song and making it better requires a whole additional dimension of musical smarts.

To commemorate its 100th release, venerable indie imprint Secretly Canadian is unleashing this batch of 18 covers by SC labelmates past and present. For the label's devotees, it's something approaching a wet dream. Each artist covers another member of the SC family, with assignments determined "via the ol' names-in-a-hat method," according to the album's press sheet. It makes for an intriguing concept, but anyone expecting anything more than a hodgepodge of varying returns will come away sorely disappointed.

Not surprisingly, the biggest names on the compilation deliver the most striking reinterpretations. Recently diseased underground luminary Nikki Sudden takes June Panic's lazy country ramble "See(ing) Double" and drags it through a pigsty, spitting it back out as a rough 'n' tumble roots rocker. Swedish troubadour Jens Lekman, meanwhile, smartly replaces the staggering drums of Scout Niblett's "Your Beat Kicks Back Like Death" with a grooved-out bongo track. Mortality never sounded so hip. Folkie cult troupe Danielson puts its own stylistic stamp on Dave Fischoff's "Propaganda for a Comic Strip," high-pitched shrieking and all.

On the flipside of this compilation, however, there's a fair degree of head-scratching experiments. Bless these artists for trying to be as obscure as possible, but there really aren't any handy excuses for the torturous free-jazz gauntlet that is Cornelius Boots' rendition of "Clubber Lang." It's something for self-serious arthouse patrons to discuss at length, but sorely out of place here. That song was originally the spawn of Racebannon, which turns in its own atonal romp through Swearing At Motorists' "The Real Thing." Considering the meditative spirit of the original, it's about as dramatic a reinvention as one could imagine. Sure enough, it sounds dangerous as hell. But it's also completely unintelligible, much like the wreckage of the head-on car crash that this band clearly aspires to be.

Thankfully, most of the other groups here take the better parts of Racebannon's example to heart. This record could have easily become an incestuous label slobberfest, with each artist crafting a loyal love letter to the work of his or her SC siblings. A restless spirit of re-imagination, however, dictates most of the tracks. The random pairing of artists produces some awkward, uninspired moments, but that was practically inevitable from the start. Really, this sort of musical exercise seems better suited to an EP length, rather than the hour-long disc presented here. What's more, Secretly Canadian probably would have been better off offering it to label superfans as a bonus for loyalty, rather than trying to market the collection on its own. Given the uneven results and the inessential nature of covers discs, not too many people outside the SC fraternity are likely to take interest. Mark another one for the discount rack, boys. C | Jeremy Goldmeier

RIYL: The history of Secretly Canadian's label roster

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