The iJamming! Weekly Download: Cover Me EPs

When they write the history books, 2007 will likely be remembered as the year that music became free. A year that started with the occasional act giving away the occasional “exclusive” MP3 ended with a flourish and a flood of free music: my Inbox is threatening to burst its banks with daily announcements of free online singles and EPs and even albums – and not just from the baby bands and struggling songwriters who need the publicity, but from established acts, too. In the midst of this holiday season of musical gift-giving, I was particularly taken by a couple of small-to-medium-sized acts who this past week each released free downloadable mini-albums of cover tunes.

Okkervil River know all about the power of the free MP3. I raved back in March about their single “The President’s Dead,” which was given away by their label to anyone who wanted to download it. The payoff for this purely promotional push was enormous: seemed like rarely a week went by thereafter that I didn’t read/hear/see someone enthusing about the Austin, Texas act and their new album The Stage Names. Now they’re ending out the year as they started it, with the Golden Opportunities Mixtape, recorded on tour over the last couple of year, and justified by main man Will Sheff as follows:

“The release-date PR hoopla model of putting out records can be extremely tiring. The way that every band works these days, including us, seems to be: record a big full-length release roughly every two years, send it out to press four months in advance, try to drum up anticipation for it and, once it comes out, spend the next six months or more (with Black Sheep Boy, it was almost two years) promoting the life out of it – interviews, radio sessions, tours and tours and tours. At times, you start to feel worked to death in service of something that was supposed to originally be a product of joy and fun.

…It’s important for everyone, not just bands, to periodically ask themselves “am I still having fun?” And it’s important to figure out ways to make the answer still be “yes.” The idea of an album just being an album – a collection of songs that was fun to put together and hopefully will be fun to listen to – appealed to me. And I have to admit I kind of got off on the fact that no one knew this thing existed until the very minute we posted it.”

Golden Opportunities
has a distinctly angst-ridden singer-songwriter feel to it, with songs by Joni Mitchell, John Phillips, John Cale, Sandy Denny, Randy Newman – and Serge Gainsbourg, whose “I Came Here to Say I’m Going Away,” translated into English by Sheff, is arguably the highlight, especially for the fact that it was bravely performed live on Radio France. There’s also a seven-minute rendition of Sheff’s own “Listening to Otis Redding During Christmas,” from Okkervil River’s first album, the brilliantly titled Don’t Fall in Love with Everyone You See, back in 2002. And no, I was not aware of them back then either. The EP comes complete with downloadable cover art and sleeve notes.

Cassettes Won’t Listen don’t have quite the same cachet as Okkervil River, but I’ve had something of a soft spot for Jason Drake’s band de plume since he/they made the effort to come up and play in the town of Hudson earlier this year. One Alternative is Drake’s tribute to the indie nineties, with covers of songs by Pavement, Sebadoh, Butter 08, Liz Phair and, um, Blind Melon. (Drake claims to be unembarrassed about his love of Blind Melon but the front page of his web site mistakenly identifies their song “Change” as, like previous cut “The Freed Pig,” being originally by Sebadoh.) Whereas the Okkervil River covers are largely acoustic and very intense, the Cassettes Won’t Listen EP is good-natured indie electronica in the vein of the Postal Service, and is cohesive enough that to the untrained ear it could pass off as an EP of original songs.

For the trained ear, the Liz Phair song, “Fuck and Run,” is the most obvious candidate for attention, as much for change of gender role as for its gleefully profane title, but very keen Cassettes fans will know that the song was actually given away once already this year, for Valentine’s Day. Those fans might be more keen to know that you can download the EP as a five-song file, or pick up an extra package complete with instrumentals and acapellas for home remixing. Drake doesn’t go into any online justification for the free EP, but his web site is well worth visiting for its ultra-cool Flash use of the turntable. And, at least to the press, he has explained his decision to cover Liz Phair’s infamous break-out song:

“A girlfriend turned me onto her a while back and ‘Fuck and Run’ sort of became my theme song. Needless to say we are no longer together. Exile in Guyville became one of those albums that I realized I slept on for a long time.”

We assume his pun is intended. Happy Holidays.

Okkervil River Golden Opportunities Mixtape from here
Cassettes Won’t Listen One Alternative from here

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