Wiretap Records and Friend Club Records, two up-and-coming indie labels, came together to release a tribute album in honor of Vagrant Records, who are celebrating 25 years as a label. Vagrant Records is a flagship label for all things punk and emo. The artists covered in this collection have been incredibly important and influential to any band that would be coming up in those genres today.
Generally speaking, there are two kinds of cover songs. The first seeks to play the song exactly (or as close to exact) as the original artist. In this type of homage, the cover artist is expressing their love for the original artist by rendering their version as faithful to the original song as possible.
In the second kind of cover, the band takes a beloved song and adds their own particular flavor to it. The result becomes more of an interpretation or paraphrase. The most obvious examples of this are the Fearless Records Punk Goes Pop series, especially the earlier volumes.
There are also slews of ska cover songs which add upstroke guitars and horns for fun twists on a classic. The best example of this is Save Ferris’ “Come on Eileen.” Not only did Save Ferris bring the already excellent song to a new generation of listeners, but they breathed new life into it. Subsequently, it became Save Ferris’ most well-known hit.
Johnny Cash had an astonishing second career with covers in his American Music series, expertly produced by Rick Rubin. These albums saw the outlaw country hero approaching out of his wheelhouse artists for a product that was something different than the original and what most would expect from Cash. His cover of Nine Inch Nail’s “Hurt” is an emotionally cathartic experience that did justice to and elevated the original.
The featured artists on Undercover on the Streets created obvious love letters to the musicians who inspired them. Most of the songs presented here are faithful renditions of the artists they are covering. This is by no means a bad thing because it refocuses light on some incredible music that hasn’t been given much attention lately. The song selections give insight into the way artists are inspired. And they give the listeners direction to discover new artists who also appreciate these classic musicians. So, if you love The Get Up Kids, chances are you will enjoy Burnt Tape. If you’re a fan of The Anniversary, then you should definitely check out Parting.
Some of the featured artists created the second type of cover, interpreting songs they were covering through their own musical voices.
Catholic Guilt (Wiretap Records) tackled “At Your Funeral” by Saves the Day, a song I’ve long been obsessed with. In their version, the softly picked guitar intro is exchanged for piano and strings, which add a slightly different touch, before they launch into the full punk-ness of the track. The updated guitar work lifts the song into a more modern emo sound.
Least (Friend Club Records) gave their version of “Hello, I’m in Delaware” by City and Colour. City and Colour is the acoustic-folk project of Alexisonfire guitarist Dallas Green, so obviously the original is very stripped down. Least takes this torch-song and turns it into an up-tempo rocker that draws from mid-90s emo sounds. But the change in style doesn’t take away from the heart of the original. In fact, this full band version is even better than the original, in my humble opinion.
Speaking of Alexisonfire, the beloved post-hardcore heroes are back onstage this year, playing at both Riot Fest and Furnace Fest. And Love Again (Wiretap Records) recorded their dramatically updated version of “This Could Be Anywhere in the World,” trading in Alexisonfire’s signature dueling hardcore screaming and melodic clean vocals for updated pop-punk vocal harmonies. There’s light screaming in the background overlayed on clean vocals, but it’s so low in the mix it functions mostly as a head nod to the original. The guitar work too is more pop-punk than post-hardcore, but it doesn’t feel like a formulaic “Take This Song and Make It Punk” that can happen at times with covers. Instead they create a track that feels natural to the genre.
Tiny Stills (Wiretap Records) tackle Saves the Day “Anywhere with You,” turning it into a glittery pop song complete with bright acoustic guitars, syncopated hand claps, and tambourines. It’s quirky, it’s fun, and it gives the listener a completely different angle on the song.
Indiana post-rock/alternative outfit SPACESHIPS (Friend Club Records), take on Thrice, a band that clearly influences their own writing. They decided to cover a song from Alchemy Index Vol. 3, Air, part of the artistically ambitious Alchemy Index EP series, grabbing up “A Song For Milly Michaelson.” The original track feels curiously incomplete, building up to a climactic full-band onslaught that never happens. Most of the track is Kensrue’s pleading voice with two guitar strings being plucked. SPACESHIPS went full Vheissu on this, taking what is a quiet but engaging song and making it a post-rock powerhouse that embodies the spirit of Thrice. In a way, it gives Thrice fans what they longed for, a fully played out version of the song.
Husband and wife duo The Bell and The Hammer take a pretty straightforward emo-pop song by Koufax, “Going to Happen,” and make it an avant-garde indie-folk song, ala Sufjan Stevens, complete with xylophone and a clarinet (or some other woodwind). It’s a very charming and sincere undertaking.
Undercover on the Streets clearly shows scope and influence of Vagrant Records on the scene. Some of the most seminal artists and albums in punk and emo have been discovered by this label, including Thrice, The Get Up Kids, Saves the Day, Dashboard Confessional, Face to Face, From Autumn to Ashes, The Bled, and on and on. Their impact on emerging artists cannot be measured. The thirty tracks on this compilation will give the listener an opportunity to take a deep dive into the Vagrant Records legacy with these emerging artists honoring the brilliance of the originals.
Undercover in the Streets drops May 20th. Pre-save the album HERE.
Burnt Tapes-Holiday (The Get Up Kids)
Lovebreakers-Private Eye (Alkaline Trio)
Parting-All Things Ordinary (The Anniversary)
Common Sage-Midnight Zone (Balance and Composure)
Catholic Guilt-At Your Funeral (Saves the Day)
Bristol to Memory-The Pharmacist (Hot Rod Circuit)
Least-Hello, I’m in Delaware (City and Colour)
Mercy Music-Get a New Life (No Motiv)
Love Again-This Could Be Anywhere in the World (Alexisonfire)
Floorbird-Robbers (The 1975)
Talk Show Host-Chips Ahoy (The Hold Steady)
Taken Days-Buried a Lie (Senses Fail)
Wolves&Wolves&Wolves&Wolves-I’m Trying (Face to Face)
Movin in Stereo-Chariots On Fire (Rocket from the Crypt)
American Television-You and Me (Boxer)
Runkdown Kreeps- Diane (The Hippos)
Avenues-Shoot the Moon (Face to Face)
Odd Robot-Holy Roman (The Get Up Kids)
The Stills-Anywhere with You (Saves the Day)
Tweedmouth-As Far as I Know (Paul Westerberg)
Elijah Newman-There’s Something Dark (Dustin Kensrue)
The Bell and the Hammer-Going to Happen (Koufax)
All Hallowed-Beat the Devil’s Tattoo (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club)
Harker-Dustbins of History (The International Noise Conspiracy)
SPACESHIPS-A Song for Milly Michaelson (Thrice)
No Better-Haven’t Been this Happy (Hey Mercedes)
NTVTY-The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most (Dashboard Confessional)
Ray Gun Solace-I Won’t Run Away (The New Amsterdams)
Dirt Money-Apocalypse Wow! (Reggie and the Full Effect)