Mixing pop, acoustic singer songwriter chops, a touch of dream pop and a light country steel guitar, Sophia Marshall’s previous covers EPs have delivered at least one track apiece that’s been absolutely marvellous. She’s turned the melancholy of Blur’s ‘End of the Century’ into something even more heartfelt, while The Kinks’ ‘I Go To Sleep’ – already drenched in sadness – became even sadder, with her lilting vocal style dripping from every syllable.

Whilst previous EPs have been themed by artist (The Kinks represented via a cover of a Pretenders cover), ‘Loose Torque’ is themed by subject. The three featured tracks are all concerned with cars – and in a big surprise, there’s nothing included by Gary Numan or new wave legends The Cars. Maybe those synth heavy sounds just wouldn’t translate. Instead, Marshall has chosen three pop and rock tunes from three rather disparate artists which. when applied with her own easy style, results in something that flows very well.

Originally an overwrought rocker with husky Roger Taylor vocals, Queen’s ‘I’m In Love With My Car’ fares best. The original, huge rock riff has been reinterpreted as a soft tinkling, semi-acoustic workout, which overlaid by soft steel guitar and breathy vocals quickly becomes a very different beast. A contender for one of the finest cover tunes of 2018, this is fantastic dream pop that accentuates the sadness in Sophia’s chosen vocal style; the love for the car now sounds like a genuine affection as opposed to a greasy spanner weilder’s call for attention. The music is lovely, but the vocal is even lovelier: although there’s a lot here that can be traced back to Sophia’s earlier performances on those Blur covers et cetera, for the unfamiliar, the end results here could easily be mistaken for early Heather Nova…which is certainly no bad thing.

The Bluetones’ ‘Autophilia’ (one of their most overlooked singles) is treated with a similar loving softness. Marshall hasn’t changed the track especially, though – certainly not in direct comparison with her Queen re-imagining – but in so many ways, this was a tune that didn’t need any real changes to make it work. The original melody stands firm – a slightly twee, vaguely 60s pop-ish affair – and her voice mirror’s Mark Morriss’s original soft delivery. It’s by no means a straight cover, of course: the acoustic elements suggest something dreamier; added car engines reinforce the original lyric which hangs onto a lovely melody while occasional electric guitars shimmer through everything in a classic dream pop style. It’s nice to hear The Bluetones covered; Britpop wasn’t all Blur and Oasis…and these guys released some of the best singles of the era.

Moving towards something more recent, Madonna’s ‘Body Shop’ – from her 2015 disc ‘Rebel Heart’ – is stripped back to its logical extreme. The original’s collection of handclaps and other quirks are replaced by tinkling bells; a once soft and filtered voice is even softer and in the hands of Marshall, the once quirky pop becomes sparse folk-pop. It doesn’t always work as well as the other tracks, though this has more to do with having less familiar source material than the performance itself; Marshall is in good voice and the retro twang on the sparingly used electric guitars is superb. The bells occasionally feel a touch intrusive, but overall, there are the makings of a thoughtful cover within, especially once multi-layered harmonies are introduced to flesh out the arrangement. Like the Queen cover, there’s something rather “desert island” about the results and after a few plays it sounds better, but isn’t quite a match for the other tracks.

These three covers are just…lovely. Some might chide them for being easy listening, but that would be their eternal loss. In terms of dream pop and Marshall’s gift for pairing a reasonably pure voice against soft and shimmering backdrops, this outdoes all of her previous cover tune releases. Whether you’re a fan of semi-acoustic dream pop, Queen, classic pop, whatever…you need to grab this free download now.

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October 2018