Once upon a time, collaborations between artists were considered special occasions. They usually involved two high-profile singers, such as Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers on “Islands in the Stream” and the unforgettable duet of Paula Abdul and M.C. Kat on “Opposites Attract”. Super, married couples have also collaborated, like Sonny and Cher, June Carter and Johnny Cash, and Beyonce and Jay-Z. Then there are the occasions where dozens of artists come together in support for a social cause, such as Live Aid, Farm Aid, and the Quincy Jones-led collective of superstars to record “We Are the World”. Not surprisingly, these joint projects shot up to the top of the charts, as fans went into a tizzy to hear what their favourite artists could do when they joined forces.
Today, it seems like everyone who is anyone is collaborating with everyone who is anyone. Neneh Cherry’s latest album features several artists, including Swedish pop star Robyn. Drake and Rihanna, Rihanna again with Eminem, and Robin Thicke with Pharrell all have had huge hits on mainstream radio.
Sharon Van Etten’s new album reportedly includes a Who’s Who of indie music, including TORRES, Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg, Lower Dens’ Jana Hunter, and Efterklang affiliate Peter Broderick. Neko Case is a collaboration-holic, starting with her early records with The Sadies acting as her “Boyfriends”, performing with The New Pornographers, and more recently calling on the assistance of My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and Bo Koster on “Night Still Comes” while also singing backup vocals on Laura Viers’ “Sun Song” and Sarah Harmer’s “Silverado”. Even David Bowie has gotten into the act, making a guest appearance on Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor”.
In recognition of this era of collaborations, Rich and I are listing five great collaborative albums. We didn’t want to just list individual songs – we wanted to recognize the efforts of artists to put aside their egos and work collaboratively with equally talented songwriters for 10 or more songs. The list below focuses on efforts of artists who came together after establishing themselves. As such, you won’t find Broken Social Scene or Wolf Parade on this list (although these are all great bands).
So let’s start the list. As usual, this is in alphabetical order.
The Black Keys released Blakroc in 2009 with an all-star collection of rappers including Mos Def, Raekwon, RZA, Ludacris, Jim Jones, Q-Tip, and others. The Black Keys brought the blues rock they became synonymous with albums such as Thickfreakness and Attack & Release. I never would have expected the styles to meld as well as they did, but, with the help of executive producer Damon Dash, the collective successfully merged these divergent sounds into a compilation that is probably my personal, all-time favourite, collaborative album.
The original version of the Blakroc album opened with a track featuring the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard called “Coochie”. Mos Def’s track “On The Vista” comes next and is one of my favorite tracks on the record. “Dollaz & Sense” is the first time Black Keys members Auerbach and Carney really leave a distinctive Black Keys groove on a song, as the lyric in the song goes, “The Black Keys got so much soul”. The most Black Keys-esqe track on Blakroc is the Mos Def & Jim Jones collaboration, “Ain’t Nothin’ Like You [Hoochie Coo]”, which is built around a classic Black Keys stomp and Auerbach supplying some backup vocals. Some songs on the album were almost a preview of what came next for The Black Keys, and that may be the lasting influence of this collaboration, which was followed up by Brothers and El Camino. Songs like “What You Do To Me” which features Nicole Wray, Jim Jones and Billy Danze have a groove that would fit on Brothers.
In 2011, a trailer was posted for Blacrok 2, but nothing ever came of it, and the existence of Blakroc 2 was denied by multiple sources. However, I will still hold out hope there will be a follow-up album sometime in the future. ~ Rich
THE COMPANY BAND
When I was in freshman year in high school, a list of my favourite bands would have probably contained stoner-rockers Clutch, Fireball Ministry, CKY, and Fu Manchu. Quite a few years later, Clutch frontman Neil Fallon, guitarist James Rota of Fireball Ministry, drummer Jess Margera of CKY, and bassist Brad Davis of Fu Manchu put together an EP called Sign Here, Here, and Here under the name The Company Band. Since then they’ve sporadically released EPs, and released a full-length self-titled album in 2009.
This combination does have a very Clutch feel, but I feel like Neil Fallon’s voice is one of the most distinctive in music that no matter who he sings for it would sound like Clutch. The music, however, is quite a bit more laid back than Clutch – it’s a bit groovier and bluesier, especially on their 2009 self-titled album. There are a lot of really awesome tracks on the album, all of which show off some of the members’ proficiencies. “All’s Well in Milton Keynes” is a great jam. The guitar work on that track is phenomenal and there’s a great solo to end it from Rota. “Who Else But Us?” shows off Margera’s drumming. And the entire album is a great groove from Davis and features Fallon delivering his usual smart-yet-eccentric lyrics.
Their 2012 EP Pros and Cons really kicks up the pace a bit, and there’s quite a bit of organ added to the sound, and it creates a really cool sound that is similar to what Clutch sounded like around the time they released Robot Hive/Exodus. ~Rich
It was a sad day for many indie rock fans when Wolf Parade unexpectedly announced it would be taking a prolonged hiatus a couple of years ago, leaving fans with 2010’s Expo 86 as the last album from the Montreal-based band. Fortunately, co-leader Dan Boeckner teamed up with Britt Daniels of Spoon, Sam Brown of the New Bomb Turks, and Alex Fischel of PAPA to form Divine Fits in 2011, and in the following year they released their first album, A Thing Called the Divine Fits.
With the creativity and genius of Boeckner and Daniels, Divine Fits produced an electric indie-rock album, which had a touch Wolf Parade’s anthemic sounds, clever lyricism of Spoon, and the catchiness of Boeckner’s previous side project, The Handsome Furs. For instance, “My Love is Real” could be mistaken for a Handsome Furs with his electric rock beat. “What Gets You Alone” has a distinctive Boeckner-Wolf Parade feel with its intense guitar opening, mellow middle frame, and then the climax at the end. “Would That be Nice” has more of an ’80s, pop-rock feel with is catchy rift, slow build, and the strategic placement of the keyboard.
In addition to their first LP, the band released a 12″ single last July. No word yet on whether and when they will release a new album. At this time, Daniels is busy putting the finishing touches on Spoon’s 8th studio album and about to tour with his main band this year. So, all we can do is wait and hope for another album soon. ~ Ben
In 2010, Ryan Olsen of Marijuana Deathsquads and more recently Poliça assembled 21 of his closest musician friends to form Gayngs. Members included Justin Vernon and Mike Noyce of Bon Iver; the Ron Jeremy look-alike Har Mar Superstar; Michael Lewis; Joe Westerlund, Brad Cook, and Phil Cook of Megafaun; Zack Coulter, Adam Hurlburt, and Shön Troth of Solid Gold; Dessa and P.O.S. of Minneapolis, hip hop troupe Doomtree; Katy Morley; Channy Leaneagh of Poliça; Maggie Morrison of Digitata; Grant Cutler of Lookbook; Ivan Howard of The Rosebuds; James Buckley of The Vandals fame; Jake Luck and Nick Ryan of Leisure Birds; and Danny Krzykowski.
Together, they released Relayted – an 11-track album of superb indie music that combines R&B, pop, hip hop, rock, and synth-pop. The best song is the collective’s cover of Godley and Creme’s 1985 hit, “Cry”, transforming it to a scintillating, dreamy, slow groove track. Their video also replicated the original, but using the faces of each of the 22-member collective. “The Gaudy Side of Town” has a Sade-feel to it, and it would form the basis of the sound of Olsen’s latest project, Poliça. “Faded High” is a hip, synth-pop track that resembles work by Little Dragons.
There were rumours that the indie collective would release another full-length album, but the only thing the group has released is an EP of remixes back in 2011. Some of the collective have collaborated on individual tracks, such as last year when Justin Vernon joined Poliça for the spacy “Tiff”, but that’s the extent to any future collaborations – at least for now. ~Ben
MONSTERS OF FOLK
Way back in 2004 before they became huge on the indie music scene, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Conor Oberst (solo and of Bright Eyes fame), M. Ward (more known for his work with Zooey Deschanel as She & Him), and Mike Mogis (producer extraordinaire and long-time collaborator with Oberst) formed Monsters of Folk. The four often would play backstage when they were at the same festivals and often would join one another on stage. Over the next few years, the band would sporadically write music and work together, and finally in 2009 they released their first and only LP, which not surprisingly was titled Monsters of Folk (after five years of writing music, I think I would also run out of ideas).
The album is full of terrific tracks. “Dear God” is the standout with James’ voice echoing throughout the song. “Say Please” is a folk-rock tune that has Oberst, Ward, and James taking turns on lead vocals. Oberst’s raspy falsetto makes “Temazcal” a memorable track (although the video below has M. Ward singing the lead vocals). “Whole Lotta of Loving” is an uptempo folk-pop tune that again sees the three main singers playing roles.
The band, though, didn’t stop at collaborating with one another. In 2010, legendary The Roots collaborated with Monsters of Folk to remix “Dear God 2.0”. In addition, Will Johnson was added as a fifth member, as he played drums during the band’s 2010 tour.
Like the other acts, there’s no word if Monsters of Folk would reunite to record another album. All the current members are busy with their main projects, having either just released or in the process of releasing new albums. However, the five still play many of the same festivals, so here’s hoping they are finding the time to write some new music on the side. It might be another few years before we get a second album, but it’ll be worth the wait. ~Ben
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