Those who didn't get into the monstrous Jay-Z/Kanye West reunion Wednesday night were most likely at the NPR Showcase. At Stubb’s Bar-B-Q, arguably the headquarters for live Austin music, a strong lineup of bands of every persuasion came together to put on an entertaining night of music.

To open the night, Syracuse noise-rockers Perfect Pussy brought their unmatchable intensity to the stage. Though the lyrics were mostly indiscernible over the sound of the band, the visible emotion on singer Meredith Graves’ face left no doubt in the audience’s mind about the sincerity of their songs.

Following Perfect Pussy was UK post-punk five-piece Eagulls. Embracing the “wall-of-sound” technique that many rock acts use, the fullness of Eagulls’ sound was never in question. Although, after three songs, the formula that they use to write their songs was very evident. A driving beat would start, and both guitarists would play nearly the exact same thing, creating plenty of sound, but cutting off opportunities for the band to create a more complex sound.

Kelis, the nationally-renown R&B/hip-hop singer famous for her provocative single “Milkshake,” brought her full band to the stage. Horns, back-up vocalists and keyboards created grooves and beats that had the entire crowd dancing along to the undeniably infectious music. She covered “Feeling Good,” returned to it several times throughout the set, and of course, brought all the boys to the yard with “Milkshake.” 

The last act I stayed for Wednesday was the artistic yet precise St. Vincent. As the only show she would play for the entire festival, the crowd was fittingly electric with anticipation. Her purposefully robotic choreography paired with her impeccable guitar playing abilities showcased her undeniable talent. Full of energy and confidence, the beautiful set was a fitting way to end my SXSW Wednesday.

Even if you’ve never heard of singer/producer Dev Hynes — the man behind Blood Orange — you’ve probably heard some of his work. Hynes caught a break last year when he co-wrote and produced Sky Ferreira’s “Everything Is Embarrassing,” along with a new EP by Solange Knowles, which included the hit “Losing You.”

Those two songs were notable for their catchy hooks, smooth but danceable ’80s sound and heartbroken lyrics that betrayed the infectious melodies. On Hynes’ second studio album, Cupid Deluxe, he shines with a collection of affecting pop that consistently delivers on the promise of his songwriting work. 

As a producer, Hynes developed a distinct sound, a hybrid between R&B and lounge that lives in a melancholy shadow. He fully develops that sound here and pulls it off either by singing himself or employing a vast array of talented guests. Caroline Polachek of Chairlift steals the show on opener “Chamakay,” a tortured duet that works wonders from its light refrain. Dave Longstreth of the Dirty Projectors stops by on the Clams Casino-produced “No Right Thing,” and his unusually soulful performance reveals amazing
potential for his band. 

Another star here is Samantha Urbani, the singer of indie group Friends, who provides vocals to many tracks, including the wonderful “You’re Not Good Enough.” The perfect kiss-off from a scorned lover, the highlight track features Urbani and Hynes getting revenge by repeating, “I never was in love. You know that you were never good enough,” over and over again.

Most of these songs are filled with pain and anguish, which create a solid dichotomy with the tropical undertones. Hynes is a magician at crafting hooks, from the call and response of “On The Line,” which has a nice callback to a song he made with Knowles last year, to the soaring closer “Time Will Tell” that effectively ties the whole album together. He nails it on “Uncle Ace,” titled for the endearing nickname homeless New York City teens have given the subway line where they seek shelter, with a tune so emotionally affecting that it remains powerful whether the backstory is known or not. 

This year has seen many artists, including HAIM and Sky Ferreira, try to nail the sound of ’80s pop, but none have perfected the formula quite the way Hynes does on his new album. After making waves behind the scenes, Blood Orange fully shines in the spotlight on Cupid Deluxe.

The new translation of Mikhail Shishkin’s novel “Maidenhair” is 506 pages of a bizarre stream-of-consciousness between three fictional narrative viewpoints: interviews with Russian refugees seeking asylum in Switzerland from the Chechen wars, the Russian interpreter’s memories and letters he writes to his son and the diary entries of an aspiring Russian singer in the early 20th century. 

“Maidenhair” is not a book to pick up on the weekend and expect to be finished by Monday. Packed with Russian and Persian historical references, reading this book deserves time and a bit of effort on the reader’s part. 

Shishkin writes in a torrential stream-of-consciousness that carries the reader through these intermingling narratives. At first, it’s off-putting to read the tragic stories of the refugees right after reading a comical anecdotal letter from the interpreter to his son. But once the three narratives are established, it’s easier to discern which one you’re reading.

Extracting meaning from these interwoven stories can be difficult — Shishkin is anything but explicit. Yet these narratives, as they mix with each other and are told side-by-side, form a cohesive storyline as they all touch on the inherently human subjects of love, death and truth.   

Through a string of beginnings and endings, the reader pieces together the universality of human life. New love is discovered and old love decays. Those around us die while new beings are brought into the world. We’re reminded that one thing doesn’t have to end for a new thing to begin. 

Shishkin is a great success in putting his reader through as many different types of pain as possible. There are the cringe-inducing tales of the refugees, who get their finger nails ripped off and watch as their families are raped, beaten and burned to death. Then there’s the anger in knowing that Peter, the Swiss officer guarding the so-called gates to paradise, only cares about finding the refugees that might be lying about these horrifying experiences in an effort to escape Russia. There’s also the pitiful existence of the interpreter, writing to a young son that has little interest in him after his ex-wife remarried. 

Finally, the most stinging pains are courtesy of the diary entries, spanning a singer’s youth and adulthood as she experiences the early wars and revolutions and the eventual disintegration of the Soviet Union. This story of a young woman pursuing her passions in the midst of a country in turmoil is easily the most affecting part of the book. Her resilience despite the utter destruction around her reminds the reader that the human spirit is a hard thing to break. 

“Maidenhair” uses the setting of a country locked in a constant state of chaos to communicate the frustrations and triumphs of the human experience. How do we find happiness in our existence if when we’re not even sure we’ll survive through the day? Shishkin’s answer is only to keep living.

“Black Metal” is a narrative short film following a singer in the wake of a murder committed by a teenage fan in the name of his music. The Daily Texan sat down with the film’s writer and director, radio-television-film lecturer Kat Candler to discuss “Black Metal” and her approach to filmmaking. 

The Daily Texan: Why do you make short films?

Kat Candler: I think making shorts is a little bit more difficult than making a feature in that you have to compact a story within six to 10 minutes ideally, and it takes a lot of crafting to put that together and really connect with an audience or punch people in the face, metaphorically speaking. I love short films and I’ve definitely immersed myself in that world a little bit more over the last couple of years having made two shorts. But it’s because it’s cheap and you want to constantly hone your craft and keep making things, regardless of [whether] it’s a minute short film or a 90-minute feature fiction film.

DT: Do you instantly know whether an idea will develop into a short film or a feature?

Candler: With “Black Metal,” I had been writing a feature script about a metal band that was publicly blamed for their music being linked to this murder. But for whatever reason it wasn’t quite working, and so doing this short was actually me getting to immerse myself more so in the metal scene and with these characters and kind of figuring out who they are and how they live and the realities of it. So now having done this short, I’m going back to the feature script with very different eyes and with a different approach to it as more of a drama. 

DT: Why have you used metal music in both “Black Metal” and your recent short “Hellion”?

Candler: I’m a huge music person, my husband more so … And for whatever reason, he started getting into metal and started feeding me CDs and buying books and doing all the research. We started watching all these documentaries and so we just became really fascinated. I love the idea that what we see onstage can be so drastically different from what life is like offstage. I find that really interesting and fascinating, what the reality of, maybe not a Metallica, but maybe a band that’s popular within a state but not necessarily so nationally and what they have to go home to every night. They’re just normal human beings, whereas fans put them up on a pedestal. It’s such a fear-based genre of music, so then when you see what life looks like at home, it can be so strikingly different, and I love to see the humanity in what’s offstage.

DT: Why should college kids see your film?

Candler: You can’t ignore that there’s something really great going on in the state of Texas when it comes to filmmaking. What I love about Austin in particular is that you have so many great filmmakers who have [such] varied voices. Everybody’s very different and very distinct in what they do and the stories they tell and the visions that they have on-screen, and I think that’s why you see so many eyes on Texas from outside of the state. We all support each other. Everybody is very supportive and very open to each other. There’s nothing competitive about it. Everybody enjoys each other’s successes and benefits from each other’s successes, you know, trying to help each other do the best work and tell the best stories.

John Legend speaks to students about education issues and his involvement with philanthropies and Teach for America in Hogg Auditorium Tuesday evening. Legend ended the lecture with a musical performance including his new song “Tonight.”

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

Grammy Award-winning singer John Legend said during an on-campus lecture Tuesday that the solution to many problems of inequality and poverty lies in a well-grounded education.

Legend said in order for individuals to pursue their passions, it is necessary to repair inequalities in the country’s educational systems.

“I believe that each one of you in this room has potential and can create change,” Legend said. “We all possess the ability to think critically and question the status quo. Education is a gift. It can open doors. Without it, doors will remain closed and options will be limited.”

Legend delivered his “Voices with Power to Impact the World” lecture in Hogg Auditorium and spoke to UT students about motivation, education and possible economic issues they may encounter after graduation. The event was organized by the Student Events Center and its Distinguished Speakers Committee, Music & Entertainment Committee and African American Culture Committee. Deaunderia Bowens, a Student Events Center advisor, said the $55,000 that paid for Legend’s visit was pulled from student fees and revenues from University Unions.

“The event is a way to make students aware of who we are, and we hope that this event showcases the best that we can do as event planners,” Bowens said.

All of these committees work together through the Student Events Center, bringing experienced speakers to campus, educating students about African American heritage and coordinating performances by renowned artists around the country, respectively.

Legend said he knew from a young age he wanted to attend college and get signed to a record label. He said after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia, he was happy to have completed college.

“Earning a degree has made me a better person. Not the piece of paper but the experiences and struggles I overcame,” Legend said. “I am now able to see the world in different ways.”

He is a board member of Teach for America, an organization that places recent college graduates in teaching positions in areas with subpar educational systems. Legend said 61 UT graduates joined Teach For America last year.

Legend said there is a need to repair and make progress in the American education system. He said America has been deemed the land of opportunity but not every person receives the same academic opportunity.

“Many high schools today are called ‘drop-out factories,’” Legend said. “This rate of high school dropouts is contributing to the perpetual cycle of poverty. In some cities, where a child is born determines the quality of education and life prospects they will receive.”

After the lecture, Legend performed a free concert for those in attendance. Students screamed and applauded in support of the singer.

Theatre and dance senior Jessica Obilom, who attended the lecture, said Legend is a talented singer and she enjoyed the opportunity to see him perform.

John Legend: Voices with Power to Impact the World from The Daily Texan on Vimeo.

Printed on Wednesday, September 19, 2012 as: Legend hails education

(Photo courtesy of Columbia)

“Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowin’/Blowin’ like it’s gonna sweep my world away”

Opening with the innocuous, melodious chimes of “Duquesne Whistle,” Bob Dylan’s 35th studio album, “Tempest,” is a passenger train that blasts off from 1940s small-town Midwestern America (appropriate, given the singer’s place of origin) and barrels through a 68-minute odyssey that includes stops at the War of 1812, “Scarlet Town,” Ancient Rome and the middle of the Atlantic Ocean before disembarking at its final destination of melancholic 1980 New York City.

The album, released a full 50 years after Dylan’s eponymous 1962 debut, picks up right where 2009’s “Together Through Life” left off, finding the mercurial 71-year-old troubadour in his latter-day roadhouse bluesman mode. He is augmented by his impeccable touring band (featuring Austin guitar prodigy Charlie Sexton), along with Los Lobos multi-instrumentalist David Hidalgo on guitar, accordion and violin.

The first obstacle one has to overcome when listening to Dylan albums of the last few decades is his impossibly gruff croak of a vocal delivery. It will immediately turn off a majority of younger listeners. Most music fans do not have the patience to withstand Dylan’s bleary vocal grate. However, for the music fan of more esoteric taste, there is no artist dead or alive that can paint a sonic picture quite like Dylan.

Although his musical skills have diminished considerably — he no longer possesses the energy that once made him capable of flooring audiences either with a full band or just an acoustic guitar — he still has the incomparable ability to turn a simple phrase into something that can make you laugh out loud, break your heart or both, as when he belts out the couplet, “You’re the only thing alive that keeps me going / You’re like a time-bomb in my heart.”

Rich lyrical imagery pervades the album’s 10 tracks, with the British burning down the White House in “Narrow Way,” the singer “Paying in Blood” that’s not his own two tracks later, then leading the listener through a harrowing description of the “ivy leaf and silver thorn” of “Scarlet Town” (“If love is a sin, then beauty is a crime / all things are beautiful in their time”).

Three of the album’s most vivid lyrical portraits are reserved for the very end, starting with the Muddy Waters-style blues stomp “Early Roman Kings.” Dylan provides his usual smorgasbord of imagery, all connected by the central simile of the title. It’s hard to imagine anyone else making music like this, aside from perhaps Tom Waits.

The same can be said for the title track, a 14-minute, 45-verse Irish dirge in three-quarter time about the sinking of the Titanic that actually references “Leo drawing sketches” along with the dreaming night-watchman and the ill-fated third-class passengers trapped in the decks below. The melody gets a little tiresome by around the 12-minute mark, but the verisimilitude of the story is never broken.

The album closes with a heartfelt tribute to fellow rock icon John Lennon. Filled with references to Lennon’s life and lyrics, the song tells the story of an artist “cooped up on that island far too long” (England? Manhattan? Earth??) while revolving around the poignant refrain, “Shine a light / Movin’ on / You burned so bright / Roll on, John.”

Ultimately, Bob Dylan’s music is not for everyone. For most listeners, the innumerable singing, dancing, major-label puppets currently populating our collective cultural sphere of consciousness will suffice. However, “Tempest” presents a more challenging listen, one that actively engages the listener’s attention.

It is a rare find in this day and age, one that is well worth the long ride.

Q&A: Mike Wexler

Mike Wexler's Disposession has acclaimed more attention than his works from the past. His dark side emerges through both spiritual and material worlds (Photo courtesy of David Black).
Mike Wexler's Disposession has acclaimed more attention than his works from the past. His dark side emerges through both spiritual and material worlds (Photo courtesy of David Black).

When it comes to freak folk singer songwriters, Mike Wexler cultivates a sound like no other. His psychedelic and nasally vocals create a completely otherworldly experience. With a busy agenda as of late, the Brooklyn-based musician released his sophomore album this month before stopping by Austin for SXSW. Wexler spoke with The Daily Texan about his artistic community, his musical influences and his s new record, Dispossession.

Daily Texan: Do you feel like you’ve gotten more press because of SXSW?
Mike Wexler:
It’s hard for me to say, there’s been quite a bit of press with the new record. I hope that going down there will generate some more interest

DT: What’s it like to be an upcoming artist from Brooklyn?
It feels pretty normal; I’ve been a lot busier in the past month. I’m happy to have that stuff to do.

DT: Do you feel the Brooklyn scene aids you in any way to emerge as a musician?
I think the scene is a very nurturing environment. There are aspects that make it hard to live here, like having to scrape by and still have time to do this sort of thing than elsewhere where the rents are cheaper. I like the energy here; there are so many different things going on and different circles. What people do is really cutting edge in all different genres, so it’s inspiring to be around that for sure. 

DT: What musical artists made you want to start a band?
When I was a kid it was probably Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen. It’s hard to say. Ever since I could remember I picked up a guitar and I never had the intention of learning other people’s songs, I always used it as a tool to write my own material. I don’t know if I can think of an artist who would be directly responsible for my music. I just like writing songs. 

DT: Was it a conscious decision to go solo?
It’s the way I’ve always operated. I’ve been in bands but I never felt I’ve met anyone who’s an ideal match for my music. It’s easier to write the songs myself so I can put a band together based on what I feel like I need in terms of instruments. I know a lot of musicians and I thought long and hard about the band for this record. It seemed like a no brainer for me that they should be involved in a project together to make that happen.

DT: As a solo artist, do you feel it’s more difficult to rouse a crowd when you perform?
It’s hard to make a definitive statement because every show is so different. Depending on the venue and the crowd and some kind of unquantifiable something in the atmosphere, there’s so many things happening at any given performance. You feel lucky when the stars align and everything goes right. It’s interesting how things pan out.

DT: You said through a Word Press blog that when someone writes something about you feel the need to set the record straight. Would you like to set anything straight for now?
I feel that everyone who I’ve seen write about this record has been more in line with how I was thinking about it. When you have something in mind that you’re hoping to come across and see people get out of it what you think you’ve put into it, it makes you feel like you’ve succeeded on some level.

It’s been a while since singer-songwriter M. Ward had some alone time. His last solo effort, Hold Time, was back in 2009. Now, having devoted most of his time to side projects She & Him and Monsters of Folk, Ward returns with A Wasteland Companion, a pendulum that swings back and forth between seeking companionship and exploring what has yet to be discovered.

Where She & Him allows Ward to live in a romanticized, 1950s pop world, A Wasteland Companion seems to show the singer’s uncertainty about romance. It’s luscious, and the instrumental arrangements are atmospheric and beautiful, a soundtrack to Ward’s journey into the unfamiliar. The first half of the album finds Ward searching for love: “But now I don’t know what it would take to make my heart back down,” he sings on “Clean Slate.”

Ward’s disposition is weary and realistic — he understands that the road to romance is difficult, reflected in his melancholic delivery. It’s sad, but the listener can’t help but relate, embracing Ward’s sadness as their own as they reflect on their own tragic-stricken love journeys. Ward’s song writing is great because of this. You can sense the honesty and truth in his songs, compelling the listener to continue on, in hopes that Ward will soon find his lost love.

The beauty of this album and its songs lies in Ward’s beaten-down spirit. The album’s title track moves with a sluggish pace, each staccato foot stomp conveying the singer’s exhaustion and strain. The mood is lonely and miserable, and although Ward sings about his friends coming and going, the listener can’t help but feel that the singer is disconnected from everyone around him, the music his one and only friend. Ward withholds nothing, and this is why his songs work. He’s so vulnerable that listeners are inclined to listen to every word he has to say.

Ward’s weary realism comes off as sad most of the time, but he’s not looking for pity — just hoping to find someone who’ll listen to his story, and may even share similar experiences. “Crawl After You” embodies that: “Oh should I stay here on this bus-stop bench/So strange to see you after all these years.” That feeling of seeing someone you once cared about so deeply, in such an unexpected manner, is something all listeners will be able to relate to, which Ward uses to his advantage. He lays his heart on the table, in hopes that you’ll do that same, and take from the experience whatever you see fit.

Those hoping for a She & Him sound-alike will be disappointed. Ward’s voyages are not as clear-cut as those he makes with bandmate Zooey Deschanel. There’s a complexity in his delivery — he’s ambivalent and unsure, not leaning too close to optimism or pessimism, but staying right in the middle.

A Wasteland Companion bears the weight of many mistakes and life lived, resulting in an album that showcases Ward at his most real and unrestrained.

Photo Credit: Elijah Watson | Daily Texan Staff

Justin Bieber. Say the name in a crowded room and you’re bound to get an assortment of responses: “He looks like a girl.” “He flips his hair too much.” “I love him.” The Canadian pop/R&B singer has gone from YouTube sensation to international heartthrob in a span of four years. Why? As music journalist Amos Barshad states in his article, “Why Is Justin Bieber This Popular?” “[There] is a level of nonthreatening adorableness even other teen pop stars find impressive.”

It’s true — the singer’s asexuality and innocence have greatly contributed to his appeal and success. Although Bieber is now experiencing the pains of growing up (the recently-turned 18-year-old started out at the young age of 15), he’s maturing more slowly than his contemporaries, allowing his progression to be digested a lot easier by his fans.

Inevitably, Bieber, like those who have come before him, made the long and perilous journey through adolescence, acquiring a deep voice and newly-cropped haircut along the way. Now the question seems to be, will Bieber successfully make the transition from preteen lover-boy to that of R&B singer and mentor Usher, or forever be remembered as the former? The singer’s latest single, “Boyfriend,” seems to show Bieber caught in between.

“I got money in my hands that I’d really like to blow (Swag, swag, swag), on you,” raps Bieber on his latest single. Yes, he raps; it almost comes off as laughably forced, but the compressed guitars and lay-you-down-gently synths indicate that the singer means business. The hip-hop inspired boasts production by fellow R&B artist Mike Posner provide a taste of Bieber’s maturity as an artist and person.

The steps to Bieber’s adulthood have been gradual and cautious: a public kiss with girlfriend Selena Gomez here, a punk-rock-inspired Rolling Stone cover there (did anyone else think Sid Vicious upon seeing that photo?) and a battered and bruised Bieber on the cover of this month’s Complex to top it all off. Of course there have been a few minor stumbles (Bieber flipping off reporters last March), but for the most part, Bieber seems ready for his growth.

The young artist’s perseverance and growing maturity is reminiscent of another Justin: Timberlake. Timberlake and Bieber may not have identical career trajectories, but there are some parallels. For example, Timberlake’s rise to fame also began in innocence as a cast member of The Mickey Mouse Club and a member of the boy-pop group, ‘N Sync.

Fast forward to 2006, and Timberlake released his sophomore album, FutureSex/LoveSounds. The album showed Timberlake’s racier side — I don’t think we’ll ever forget the singer’s video for “What Goes Around.../...Comes Around,” a nine-minute epic that featured lust, love and lies.

Obviously, Bieber’s “Boyfriend” has nothing on FutureSex/LoveSounds in quality, but it is an indicator that Bieber knows that with age comes more sexually suggestive ways of expression. “Spend a week wit your boy/I’ll be calling you my girlfriend,” he raps. It’s not surprising lyrically, but the deep-voiced rhymes, and an atmosphere that channels the sounds of Usher and The-Dream are head-turning, because Bieber has never been known to be a rapper.

The song is not completely bad, but there’s a level of awkwardness in Bieber’s forced delivery and lyrical content that indicate the singer is not fully prepared for the shift. His rapping delivery attempts to show signs of maturity, but the awkwardness and childish flirting stop it from being taken too seriously.

For example, towards the end of “Boyfriend,” Bieber relies on Disney pick-up lines to get his interest’s attention: “I could be your Buzz Lightyear/fly across the globe.”

Fans will still like “Boyfriend” because, although the rapping may come off as unfamiliar, the singing won’t. Even though the lyrical content doesn’t indicate a significant shift in maturity, fans will appreciate that Bieber has not completely abandoned his childish appeal. It’s smart that Bieber is moving slow. As we’ve seen with Miley Cyrus, rushing to appease an adult audience sometimes isn’t the best method.

“I’m constantly thinking about my future,” Bieber said in an interview with Barshad in 2010. “I always listen to what Michael Jackson has to say, and Usher and Justin Timberlake, and how they came out in interviews, and how they were able to transition from teen stars into adult stars.”

Bieber seems to know what he’s doing — as long as he continues to grow naturally with his fans, rather than try to appease one specific age group, the Bieber fever will continue to spread.

Printed on Thursday, March 29, 2012 as:'Baby' singer grows up in 'Boyfriend'

(Photo courtesy of 429 Records).

The cover art for R&B/soul songstress Macy Gray’s latest album, Covered, says it all. Naked, but veiled in darkness and hidden under wild hair, the singer-songwriter has a sullen look on her face, staring off into an abyss that seems to reflect the dark atmosphere of the album.

It was a 32 year-old Gray that introduced herself to new listeners with her 1999 hit single, “I Try.” Somber, but undoubtedly soulful, the grieving love anthem became an important part of the raspy-voiced singer’s repertoire.

Fast-forward to 2010, and Gray released her fifth studio album, The Sellout. Criticized for the most part, the album seemed to indicate a stumbling block in Gray’s writing process, with most commenting that both lyrically and vocally, the songstress did not complement the lush production that accompanied her.

Fortunately, this is not the case for Gray’s latest release, Covered, a covers album. The fact that Gray can make such an impressive return to music through the use of songs that span from the early ‘80s to today is a testament to the singer’s creative fervor. The renditions are memorable, and none of them sound like their originals.

Album opener “Here Comes the Rain Again,” originally made famous by Eurythmics, is ominous and haunting. Gray’s raspy pleas of “talk to me” float in a pool of melancholic trumpets, echoing in a cave of loneliness. It’s a fitting song for Gray’s return; after being away from music for some time, it’s as if the singer is searching for herself through the songs that have helped shape her career.

Covered isn’t complete darkness; take the marijuana-friendly “Smoke Two Joints” for example. Originally written by reggae group The Toyes but made popular by ‘90s alternative rock trio Sublime, “Smoke Two Joints” is laughingly good.

The album succeeds because although it’s a covers album, each song reflects Gray’s eclecticism. There’s the angst-filled cover of My Chemical Romance’s “Teenagers;” Kanye West’s love-is-a-losing-game “Love Lockdown;” and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ love-on-point “Maps.”

What has always worked in Gray’s favor is her unpredictability. She does what she wants, and although the results have varied in past releases, the move comes off as successful on this release. It’s like when the Foo Fighters covered Prince’s “Darling Nikki,” or Katy Perry’s recent cover of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Ni**as in Paris”: it sounds so strange, but you can’t help but smile.

Although the album lacks any new material, Covered is worth listening to. The laugh-out-loud song selection is great, but it also shows that Gray still has the potential to make a cover-free comeback in the near future.

Editor's Note: This video contains explicit content.

Printed on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 as: Covers album showcases Gray's fresh take on eclectic song range