Secretly Canadian has been operating out of Bloomington, Indiana for more than eleven years. That is a huge milestone for any record label, and it goes to show the quality of their output and the loyalty of their listeners. As a pat on the back for a milestone release, Secretly Canadian celebrates their 100th release with a covers album. Much like Rough Trade’s 25th anniversary release, SC100 has Secretly Canadian artists covering other Secretly Canadian artists (only songs from SC releases 1 through 99, of course).
The bad news first: since the artists could only choose songs from releases 1 through 99, it excludes the exceptional works of recent signees such as Antony and the Johnsons and Frida Hyvönen (a new obsession of mine). In addition, unless you happen to be an obsessive Secretly Canadian collector, many of these songs aren’t readily available. There’s not a lot of contrast and compare happening here, which is half the fun of listening to covers.
Good news: though I have maybe heard only two or three of the originals covered here, many of these covers are strong enough to stand on their own. Nikki Sudden kicks things off with a raucous version of June Panic’s “See(ing) Double.” There’s a lot of swagger and confidence in Sudden’s voice that you immediately become taken with it. Longtime Secretly Canadian signees, Songs: Ohia take on Sudden’s “The Last Bandit” and do the singer justice. It’s a spirited take and while Jason Molina lacks Sudden’s raspy vocals, his voice is perfectly suited to the restless song.
I had never heard of Suzanne Langille prior to listening to this album but I was absolutely mesmerized by her cover of Songs: Ohia’s “Structure: Necessity.” Her voice shivers and recalls the raw power of Patti Smith making the song a harrowing tale. Perhaps best of all is Jens Lekman’s bright take on Scout Niblett’s “You Beat Kicks Back Like Death.” He gives the song a bossanova rhythm and spot-on vocal harmonies providing a stark and humorous contrast against Niblett’s lyrics of “we’re all gonna die.” His version only heightens my adoration of his wry humor. Marmoset has the unfortunate duty to cover Jens Lekman with “Sky Phenomenon.” However, they do quite well with it, adding organs making it sound like the most leisurely church music ever.
With 18 tracks, they can’t all be winners and while I admire artists like Danielson and Damien Jurado, I couldn’t quite sit through their covers of Dave Fischoff and Early Day Miners songs, respectively. Swearing at Motorists rely too heavily on the backwards effect making their version of Havergal’s “Lungs for the Race” sound too clunky and redundant. In turn, Havergal’s cover of Ativin’s “Riding and Roaming” is maddeningly boring. Cornelius Boots’ take on Racebannon’s “Clubber Lang” is misguided at best and a muddled mess at its worst.
By now, Secretly Canadian has probably released well over 150 recordings by now and by all means you guys, congrats! 100 releases is nothing to poo-poo over. However the hits don’t quite even out the misses on this compilation. It truly is great that they have such a roster of interesting and diverse artists that are able to take part, but for every gem like Jens Lekman there’s a Cornelius Boots, a track I really could have done without. In the end, I think I’ll raise my glass to Secretly Canadian listening to whole albums by Antony and the Johnsons, Jens Lekman and Frida Hyvönen.