For the September edition of the collective collaborative blog, T&E writers talk about their favorite music duos. A middle ground between full bands and solo artists, two-person music groups have their own unique relationships and dynamics that necessarily influence the music they produce.
Favorite Song: “Can You Discover?”
Back in 2009, Rostam Batmanglij (former Vampire Weekend keyboardist) and Wes Miles (Ra Ra Riot frontman) divvied up vocals and synth and drum programming to release their electronically-drenched side project LP. Sonically warm in temperature and rainbow in color, LP contains both nonsensical lyrics (‘I need to wash my sheets or I’ma go insane’) and youthful, relatable lyrics about crushing on someone (‘I think about you nightly...My bed’s too big for just me’). Tracks thrive on offbeat skips and pauses which, at surface, are playful and nonchalant but are placed meaningfully when you dig a bit deeper at it. LP gives off a vibe of two friends just kickin’ it (pals Ezra Koenig [‘Carby] and Angel Deradoorian ['I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend’] even come along for the ride), doing what they do best and having fun while doing so. This duo’s glitchy only love-child always turns my mood around and remains at the top of my ‘go-to feel good albums’ roster.
Artists: Animal Collective
Favorite Song: "Leaf House"
Album: Sung Tongs
Dave Portner (Avey Tare) and Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) comprise half of Animal Collective, who have been my favorite group for about the past decade. Portner and Lennox released two collaborative albums, Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished (2000) and Sung Tongs (2004), under the Animal Collective moniker. A lot of people physically cannot listen to Spirit, claiming it hurts their ears. I find its beauty exists within its abrasiveness, high pitched frequencies and poetic lyrics. Although it’s nearly impossible for me to choose a track off of Sung Tongs, their second collaborative release, I have to go with "Leaf House". This song initially got me into Animal Collective and changed the music game for me. I hear this song with my ears, of course, but more importantly it travels deep within my body by way of ‘weird noises’ (as many may put it), connecting me to my individual self; the very core of my being. The unconventionality of AnCo’s music is exactly why I love them so much — they opened up the world of experimental music to me by beckoning emotions through hollering, screaming, yelling, etc. Not everything they release is necessarily jarring, though, and I find AC to be pro at mellowing out, too. They’ve come out with handfuls of my favorite lowkey tracks, which glow, buzz, hum and whirr. Avey, Panda and the rest of AC never cease to surprise me, and their diversity continues to keep me on my toes, regardless of the hundreds of times I’ve dissected their music and history as a band.
Artists: Fripp & Eno
Favorite Song: “The Heavenly Music Corporation”
Album: (No Pussyfooting)
I like to say that everything Brian Eno touches turns to gold. Beyond his amazing art pop work in the early 1970s, he coined the term "ambient music" in the liner notes for Music for Airports, and his collaborations with Devo and Talking Heads are indisputable classics. The guy even composed the six-second piece of music that millions of people heard every day when they started up Windows 95. In 1973, at the beginning of his career, Eno teamed up with Robert Fripp, the virtuosic guitarist and founding member of prog rock band King Crimson. Divine sparks flew. Their first album together, (No Pussyfooting), is made up of two tracks—one on each side of the record—each hovering at around the 20-minute mark. The ethereal, experimental magic that ensues is what you get when you combine Eno's reel-to-reel tape recording experiments with Fripp's tranquil yet massive electric guitar. The song embedded above isn’t my favorite, but it’s the only one available on YouTube at the moment. It’s still great, as it’s the opening track to the 1975 album Evening Star. (According to some commenters, Robert Fripp is like Prince in that he doesn’t want people to be able to stream his work for free.)
Artists: Inner City
Favorite Song: “Good Life”
Album: Big Fun
“We don’t really need a crowd to have a party / Just a funky beat and you to get it started.” Nearly every EDM track today can be traced to either Detroit or Chicago—or both. In Detroit, the names to know are the Belleville Three—Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, and Derrick May—who defined their music as “techno” from the early days to distinguish it from house music, which was rapidly developing in Chicago. Atkins’ music had a heavy electro sound, whereas May’s was a bit more soulful, but both were making definitively Detroit techno. Saunderson, however, took the techno sound and blended it with disco inspired-house music through one simple trick: working with a female vocalist. Recommended by Chicago house producer, Paris Grey flew up to Detroit, laid down her gorgeous, lush, soulful vocals atop Saunderson’s deep beats, and the world was given a gift. Two of their first singles—”Big Fun” and “Good Life”—rapidly took over the international charts. I love electronic music, but I also love feeling that human touch. And with Inner City, you get that through Saunderson’s seamless blend of techno with Paris’ soothing, soulful positivity. It’s music that heals.
Artists: The Eurythmics
Favorite Song: “Here Comes the Rain Again”
The Eurythmics, Annie Lennox and David A. Stewart, are most recognized for their classic 1981 hit “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These).” Annie Lennox has a voice that becomes instantly recognizable to the first-time listener; It’s haunting, husky, and commanding. Her Eurythmics counterpart, David A. Stewart is a master craftsmen of dynamic, distinctively 80s sound and produces the perfect composition of simple, yet driving synths to accompany Lennox’s demanding voice. Together they are an 80s power couple, and this dynamism is evident in my favorite track of theirs, off the 1984 album Touch,“Here Come the Rain Again.” Stewart leads us in with some simple electric piano that ebbs and flows, building up to a strong disco beat at the chorus. The soft, poppy, and somewhat mysterious synth production balances Lennox’s strong and matter-of-fact way of singing. Her voice is allowed to ring over the music and penetrate us with that ever burning question,“Is it raining with you?” The Grammy award-winning group split up after 10 years together. Lennox continues to be a successful solo artist, and Stewart a sought after producer.
Artists: Hall and Oates
Favorite Song: “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)”
Album: Private Eyes
Daryl Hall and John Oates are historically the third best-selling music duo of all time! They had six No. 1 hits between 1970 and the mid 1980s. Their sound blends classic rock, rhythm and blues, soul, and some elements of new wave music, often incorporating a saxophone, and a strong synthesizer. Combining these elements is what makes Hall and Oates unique and has contributed strongly to their success. “I Can’t Go For That” starts with a superbly funky bass-line and some simple chords that make you feel like strutting down a road made of clouds. Hall comes in with some sassy lyrics, and Oates is there to provide those stunning back up vocals. The song climaxes at the sax solo, as a lot of Hall and Oates’ jams do. You can see why this song was a Billboard No.1, and why Hall and Oates remain a legacy.
Artists: Boards of Canada
Favorite Song: “Sunshine Recorder”
Boards of Canada remain one of the most obscure and mysterious electronic music duos. Though achieving widespread recognition, Boards of Canada have done little to advertise releases and they have be known to limit the release of their albums, sometimes distributing music in secret and often privately handing out recordings to friends and family. Brothers Marcus and Michael, have an electronic music style that remains unique to them. The two have experimented with recording since they were young and often incorporate distorted clips from documentaries and television, as well as natural sounds, into their music,.
There is a theme of duality I find in their music. It has the effect of being both beautiful and haunting, innocent and sinister, dark and light. There is a demented child-like quality to a lot of their tracks that is as unsettling as it is comforting. Geogaddi, their second album, was released in 2002. It’s hard to choose a favorite song, but I chose “Sunshine Recorder” off that album because I think it represents the dual nature of their music fairly well. The song opens with gentle, though discordant, synth sounds that float softly over the surface of a heavier beat and low bass. Like most Boards of Canada songs “Sunshine Recorder” takes you on a strange journey, it’s like experiencing a dream or deja vu; There are sounds you recognize, but the distortion generates an unsettling familiarity. By the end of it you are left both restless and at peace. Boards of Canada are a duo that achieves great balance in their music because of this.
Artists: Demon Queen
Favorite Song: “The 5th Beat”
Album: Exorcise Tape
Demon Queen, in my opinion, was one of the best things to happen to 2013. It is the genius collaboration between experimental producer Tobacco, and Tucson-born, L.A. musician Zackey Force Funk. The two talents combine to produce something demonically poppy, eerily experimental and frightfully funky. Zackey’s voice can be described as demonic baby talk, maybe... spooky seductive? Nevertheless, paired with Tobacco’s witchy beats and fuzzy manipulation, the two conjure a uniquely dark and sensuous electronic sound. The name “Demon Queen” paints an image that is all too accurate. You can give a listen to their only album, Exorcise Tape, and join me in desperately wishing for more from the duo.
Artists: The Everly Brothers
Favorite Song: "All I Have To Do Is Dream"
Album: All I Have To Do Is Dream (single)
I try my best to avoid the word "perfection", but that's exactly what the Everly Brothers are - absolute perfection. Just take the above video for example...their close harmonies are flawless, their rhythm is on point, and even their aesthetic is pristine. There isn't a hair on their head that's out of place. They represent the ideal duo group in that they are the exact equal opposites of each other. Phil and Don's vocal stylings are unique in their own way, all while complimenting each other to create a rich, full sound that you'd usually only hear from a full band. These two brothers alone managed to influence the majority of rock 'n roll bands from the 60's, and continue to keep listeners swoonin' to their divine love songs today.
Artists: Infant Annihilator
Favorite Song: “Motherless Miscarriage” (NSFW)
Album: The Elysian Grandeval Galèriarch
Where do I begin with this band? In a genre full of fans that seem to celebrate offensiveness and pride themselves on being as politically incorrect as possible, the English duo in Infant Annihilator have rustled quite a few jimmies in the short time that they’ve been a band. This is partially thanks to their juvenile, yet absurdly hilarious, music videos for “Motherless Miscarriage” and “Decapitation Fornication.” The music itself, however, is crushing. I hesitate to refer to the rapid snare drumming technique as “blast beats” since they sound so much faster and more explosive than the blast beats you hear in common death metal drums. They’re sonically relentless, and they do a great job at giving the genre’s stuffy, rigid status quo a big cream pie in the face. For that, I say they’re one of the most necessary bands in the modern metal scene
Artists: Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris
Favorite Song: “Streets of Baltimore”
Not sure you can tell from this daguerreotype-quality video but those spectral presences playing guitar there are Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, for whom ghosts serve actually as a pretty fitting little metaphor. They kind of floated into each other’s lives, it seems; Gram saw Emmylou at a show and he was smitten--an easy outcome when it comes to Emmylou. Not that these two were lovers, although I’m sure they did love each other, and hey maybe they were lovers who knows. I guess the speculation is that because they recorded songs together they must have been romantically involved. How could two hot hippies such as these resist each other, right?
But what does it matter, in the end, for ol’ Gram up and died under mysterious circumstances not two albums into his collaborations with Emmylou. She’d go on to marry her producer after mourning, maybe, for a long time. Meanwhile, while these two were involved, Gram and Emmylou, however they were involved, they recorded a version of “Love Hurts” that hurts the most when you hear it, you know, post-hoc, and also had to have hurt the most when folks first heard it, too. “Ooo-ooh love hurts.” Which was a song written by another dynamic duo, Felice and Boudleax Bryant, right? But you might not be watching a moving lithograph of “Love Hurts” if you clicked the link above. I chose this video of these two star-crossed spirits because of all the songs that Gram and Emmylou recorded together I find myself singing to myself this one the most. The “Streets of Baltimore,” from what I understand, are not far from where Gram and Emmylou met, and the song I think kind of captures, however slowly, how transient was their brilliance together. And it’s catchy. And the next track on GP is pretty good too: “She.”
Favorite Song: “Mr. Me Too”
Album: Hell Hath No Fury
Wow, man. I remember first hearing these guys, starting to listen to them with my brother, and they’re brothers, too! So we’d be listening to these guys and remark to each other how they were saying the same sorts of things as what has kind of patterned rap music since like the late 80s, they were rapping about making a fortune selling drugs basically, but they were doing it in ways that neither of us, that nobody it seemed, had ever considered. Consider, for example, from “Mr. Me Too” linked above: “Pyrex stirs turned into Cavalli furs,” or from the more straightforward and hilarious “Keys Open Doors,” “Coke money cleaned through Merrill-Lynch accountant just gasped at the smell of it,” or the simplest and most genius, from “Dopeman”: “Fresh out the ziplock yellow and blue make green”--and those are just the halves of ‘em! That bar from “Mr. Me Too” ends up talking about, “The full-length cat when I wave the kitty purrs,” like he’s wearing a real live fuckin’ cat on his back. The picture of rappers’ lavish lifestyles is nowhere richer than in Clipse’s songs. Maybe they aren’t always compelling, the songs or their stories or whatever, but the quick glimpses of these two fraternal pals kitted out schmoozing with art dealers and designers and whoever’s who offer some really fun flights of fancy.
Favorite Song: “Rosa Parks”
And speaking of some furs, check out these furry funky dudes. Country dudes from the same state as Gram. Freak alien dudes devoted to smoothness. Smooth like a hot comb on nappy ass hair. Here they are burning at about 1000 degrees on the Chris Rock show, and yet they are also looking like the height of cool. A couple of modern-day Miles Davises. But you all already know them; I’m talking like you’ve never heard of them, like you don’t already know how cool they are, like they’re really from out of this world. Y’all should read this review of ATLiens though if you haven’t already as it attests to the dynamic-ness of this duo a lot more eloquently than this little terrestrial blurb.
Favorite Song: All of ‘em
Album: Ridin’ Dirty
So there are a lot of good duos in rap history, and many of them are close to me such that I want to feature them here. But it’s a long tradition, you know, and I’ve only got a short time, and so although it’s without hesitation, it’s not without some momentousness that I wanna call UGK my favorite ever rap duo and be done with it. More words would only make a mess of my respect.
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