(Roll Call Records, CD, digital download)
Cover songs present an interesting artistic opportunity in that they offer fans the chance to hear established songs in a new light. For example, take Bon Iver’s version of “Your Love” by the Outfield. In Justin Vernon’s hands — or rather his wounded falsetto — the song feels darker and more emotionally exposed. He lays bare the tune’s almost unseemly undercurrent of sexual yearning that the poppy arrangement of the 1985 original somewhat obscures. But toying with another artist’s intellectual property can also pose significant risk. In the wrong hands, the results can be disastrous (e.g., Sixpence None the Richer’s shameless slaughter of the La’s classic, “There She Goes”).
The key seems to be maintaining the integrity of the source material while simultaneously imbuing the new version with a fresh perspective. Local rockers Chamberlin strike that balance on an intriguing new collection of cover songs, Cabin Covers EP.
And speaking of Bon Iver, the EP gets off to an inauspicious start with “Lost in the World.” The song is a take on a Kanye West take on Bon Iver’s “Woods” that made the Internet rounds a couple of years ago. Taking on the tune’s multilayered, a cappella intro is ambitious, to say the least. But Chamberlin struggle to do it justice. They can be credited for performing it au naturel, eschewing the overt AutoTune that Vernon employs to such unique effect on the original. However, while they nail the arrangement, they’re often frustratingly off-key. Fortunately, those issues are resolved once the band members strap on guitars. The remainder of the tune is a clever adaptation of West’s version and sets the stage for what comes next.
The band’s version of “Little Secrets” by Passion Pit — originally released last year as a bonus track to their full-length debut, Bitter Blood — is striking, as the band turns the tune from danceable electro-pop into a sweetly brooding acoustic ballad. “Go Outside,” by Cults, takes on an almost classic R&B feel, which is a far cry from that tune’s original sing-song electro vibe. Vampire Weekend’s synth-pop scorcher “Giving Up the Gun” is transformed into a loping, alt-country weeper. And EP closer “Pumped Up Kicks,” by Foster the People, almost sounds as though it was meant to be acoustic chamber pop instead of a grainy indie-dance track.
On their Cabin Covers EP, Chamberlin offer a collection of material that stands on its own simply as a great listen. But what makes this collection remarkable is the sensitivity paid to the source material and the cunning ingenuity with which the band personalizes the new versions. It’s quite an achievement, and one of the most enjoyable 20 minutes of “local” music you’re apt to hear this year.
Cabin Covers EP is available at chamberlinband.com. All proceeds from sales of the EP go to Irene flood-relief efforts in Vermont.