It Takes Two: Indie Duos More Popular Than Ever.
The Musical Duet Renaissance of the 21st Century
Musical collaborations are a tale as old as time, spanning generations and genres, musicians never fail to experiment and push their own limits. Take, for example: Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, Jay-Z and Beyonce, Ray Charles and well, everybody. Typically a collaboration consists of two big names joining forces to produce a cheesy promotional song, and then they part ways, but oh how times have changed. The 21st century has brought about a renaissance of the musical duet. Now these aren’t your parent’s collaborative duets, no, these are something different, these are indie-rock duets. All-stars of the indie world are picking partners, and starting super-group duos, creating albums under new names, and new sounds, sometimes combining styles, and occasionally creating something entirely new. Here are a few highlights from the duet renaissance of our time.
The Postal Service
This two-some needs no introduction, but the renaissance of indie duos can be traced back to 2003 with the release of Give Up by The Postal Service; the collaboration between Death Cab for Cutie’s lead singer, Ben Gibbard, and indie-electronic extraordinaire Jimmy Tamborello of Dntel. An indie-rock icon, and an illustrious DJ combining to create a powerhouse album. It was a breath of fresh air that people welcomed with open arms, and has opened a flood-gate of similar match-ups. Download “Such Great Heights”.
One Day as a Lion
One Day as a Lion recently announced that they will play their first US shows this summer, and judging by their debut EP, it’s an event not to be missed. One Day as a Lion is the collaborative effort of Rage Against the Machine’s lead singer, Zack de la Rocha, and The Mars Volta’s drummer, Jon Theodore. They actually sound like a perfect blend of the two bands, a little rock and rap from Rage, and a little electronic neo-metal from Mars Volta. The duo will be performing two shows, Saturday, July 17 in Pomona CA and Sunday, July 18 in Los Angeles CA, but the locations have yet to be announced. Check out the video for “Wild International.”
The latest rave in collaborations that you may know as Broken Bells is a pairing from The Shins’ frontman James Mercer, and producer, DJ, bad-ass extraordinaire, Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton). Danger Mouse is the king of collab, working with everyone from Cee-Lo of Gnarls Barkley to MF Doom of Danger Doom to Helena Costas of Joker’s Daughter and Sparklehorse (which is actually where Mercer and Mouse met). Shall we keep going? Once again Danger Mouse found a gem in Broken Bells, creating a seamless blend of the two opposing styles of its members, the whimsy rock of The Shins and the electronic funk that only Danger Mouse can deliver. Stream a few songs from the album and watch some videos on the band’s official website.
Dark Night of the Soul
Dark Night of the Soul just barely makes the list because technically it’s a collaboration between many artists including filmmaker/artist David Lynch, but the masterminds behind the cryptic album are Danger Mouse, and the late Sparklehorse (aka Mark Linkous). The album was conceived, written, and performed by Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse with the help of indie’s most illustrious names including, but not limited to: James Mercer of The Shins, Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals, Julian Casablancas of The Strokes, Frank Black, Iggy Pop, The Flaming Lips, and Vic Chesnutt. After a year-long battle with their record label, the album officially hit the streets on July 12. You can stream the entire album on NPR.
Street Sweeper Social Club
Street Sweeper Social Club is a renaissance within a renaissance. It’s the revival of the rap rock collaboration a-la-Aerosmith and Run DMC, but this time as a duo. The group consists of another Rage Against the Machine alum and bassist, Tom Morello, and hip-hop artist Boots Reily of The Coup. The guitar/bass work is unmistakably Morello, heavy, funky, and aggressive, which perfectly backs Reily’s politically-charged lyrics. It’s a combo that makes us repent our forsaking of rap/rock, like the second coming of the Judgment Night soundtrack. Check out SSSC’s cover of M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes”.
At first listen it’s difficult to take Discovery seriously. It’s even more difficult to tell if they take themselves seriously, but the more you listen to Ra Ra Riot vocalist Wes Miles’ sweet, innocent lyrics flowing through Vampire Weekend keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij’s sugar-coated electronic sunshine, it’s hard not to say “who gives a shit” and just start dancing. It’s a giddy romp through a forest of electronic cliches, like some kind of indie-electro-R&B hybrid. As a warm-up, give a quick listen to the group’s neo-R&B/electro reggae reworking of Ra Ra Riot’s “Can You Tell,” and see if you can resist the urge to dance. You can stream the entire debut LP on the band’s http://dscvry.net/.
Nas and Damien Marley
Another genre mashup for the ages, Nas and Damien Marley bring their powerful styles together to make a seamless reggae hip-hop album. Full of equal parts samples and rock-steady beats, Nas and Marley have perfect chemistry together as their poignant, social commentary flows over a mash of traditional dancehall and hip-hop beats. Proceeds from the duo’s album will go to building schools in Africa. Download the new song “Land of Promise”.
What are your favorite indie duos, and who would you like to see make a collaborative album? Let us know in the comments.