The Best Indie Musician Collaborations of All Time
With the announcement that Kurt Vile is teaming up with Courtney Barnett as Kurt & Courtney (a moniker we aren't crazy about, although their combined output has earned enough good will to let it slide), it's easy to shrug off the idea that a collaborative work on this level would somehow be the lowest common denominator of the two — each compromising their individual standards to come to a homogeneous middle ground. But we don't think so. We think that, in the case of Kurt & Courtney, we just might have something very interesting on our hands — a project worth getting excited about.
The indie landscape is littered with collaborative efforts between two bands that have been sub-par, yet certain artists have managed to create wholly different pieces that enrich the breadth of their catalog. Below, we will look at successful cases of when one band combines with another (in a collaborative sense; not a supergroup or otherwise) to create a wholly new entity. There aren't many, but they are definitely worth your attention.
BORIS AND ANYBODY
Boris’ malleability in picking whoever the hell they want to create music with has a lot to do with how they approach their own music. From one record to the next, you can be treated to everything from total bone-crushing doom to J-pop-style fun. This vision allows them to collaborate with noisy bands like Endon, vocalists like the Cult's Ian Astbury, Japanese guitar lords like Michio Kurihara and, of course (perhaps most often), Merzbow.
HAMILTON LEITHAUSER + ROSTAM
Rostam’s ’50s and ’60s-style songwriting is a perfect match for Hamilton Leithauser’s croon, creating a classic of timeless songcraft in 2016. It’s a 100 percent natural marriage that feels like a big fat “oh doy, why didn’t I think of that” from the moment the first kick drum hits. Pop perfection.
SUNN O))) AND ANYBODY
Sunn O))) have the luxury of creating music that is fully adaptable. They’ve written songs that rely on repetition and barely have three riffs in them, but also songs with more conventional structures. That versatility has led them to collaborations with tons of artists that vary in style and approach, from the bombast of Boris to the ethereal and eerie vocals of Scott Walker. And while each release has its own distinct approach and flavor — be it with Earth, Nurse With Wound or Ulver — it’s all pretty easily recognizable as Sunn.
MERZBOW AND ANYBODY
According to Discogs, Masami Akita has 396 releases under the name Merzbow. Any one solo artist with that many releases surely has waves and waves of collaborations, and Akita is no exception. What makes Merzbow’s collaborations so unique — whether they're with Full of Hell, Boris or Masonna — is how he adapts to each collaborator’s style without compromising his own vicious approach to noise.
CULT OF LUNA AND JULIE CHRISTMAS
Last year, these two reclusive juggernauts hit the jackpot on (hopefully not) one-off LP Mariner. Cult of Luna's major weakness has long been their static guttural vocal approach, and Battle of Mice / Made Out of Babies expat Christmas added some welcome dynamism to their slow-build post-metal.
WAVVES AND CLOUD NOTHINGS
Wavves and Cloud Nothings are kind of the yin and yang of a newer paradigm in punk’s intersection with indie and noise. So, it made sense that the two of them came together for 2015’s No Life for Me. It brings the best elements of the two bands out — the solid rock approach of Cloud Nothings mixes perfectly with Wavves’ no-fucks-given attitude when it comes to experimenting. It’s the best of both worlds for fans of either band.
XIU XIU AND EUGENE ROBINSON
As separate entities, Xiu Xiu and Oxbow's Eugene Robinson both take parallel paths in exploring the weird, offbeat places that sounds can take them. It made a lot of sense when those paths converged, resulting in Sal Mineo. The album is at times beautiful, horrifying and disgusting. Voices become alien things in mere moments, while sounds come from unidentifiable sources. Their inspiration is not based in humanity.
WEYES BLOOD AND ARIEL PINK
Sometimes the best collaborations are when it’s clear that both artists are having the most fun they can, rather than trying to make some kind of serious statement piece. Case in point: Ariel Pink and Weyes Blood’s Myths 002. Parts of the record sound similar to Weyes Blood's chamber pop, albeit imbued with the kind of silliness and dramatics that are par for Ariel Pink's course.
THE BUG VS. EARTH
The works of Dylan Carlson see droning guitars shift and evolve in a plethora of interesting ways, leaving one to wonder what would happen should they intersect with the synthetics of electronic music. This question was answered valiantly by Concrete Desert, his recent collaboration album with electronic producer the Bug. One can hear the long, sprawling, open nature to Earth’s guitar work intertwined with the underpinning of electronic percussion and dubbier sections. These huge riffs move a whole lot differently just by the sheer fact that they're in a new context of electronic music, giving everything an entirely new feeling and perspective.