5 albums that made 2014 the year of the collaboration
An odd thing happened this year. Amongst all the noise that is the music industry, certain singers, producers, and rappers found one another and a spark was lit. They made great albums together. Not split releases or mentoring production jobs, but equal, mind-melding collaborative albums. Here are the remarkable ones.
Eno & Hyde - High Life
Brian Eno and Karl Hyde came together to release Someday World earlier this year, which, despite the pairing, was a lacklustre record. Then they surprised everyone with High Life a whole two months later, and what a surprising record it is. From the moment “Return” starts to bubble up through your speakers the forward motion drive that the tracks employ has you in its gently rigid grip. Eno’s lyrics are often gorgeous, especially on that opener, but impressive to say the least on other tracks, like closer “Cells & Bells”. Hyde’s guitar moves between krautrock power strumming and bendy Africana melodies. Whatever it’s doing though, it’s doing it well. High Life is easily one of the year’s most open records, its driving rhythms moving you through its expanse calmly and keenly.
Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels 2
When El-P and Killer Mike released their collab of last year, Run The Jewels, most appreciated it as a solid hip-hop record that resurrected the careers of the two aging rappers. But RTJ2 is the raging realisation of their goal, their aim, and their point blank shot. Every song on the sequel hits hard and brutally, tearing open a wound in the face of all who don’t stand alongside them. From religion and its masters to hip hop and its losers to government and the men with the money, El-P and Killer Mike leave no one standing. El-P’s production is that of a forward gaze, forgoing sampling the past and instead building deep beats and machinegun vocal samples that spitfire back and forward across the songs. As far as hip hop in 2014 is concerned, RTJ2 is the boss.
Tweedy - Sukierae
Father and son Jeff Tweedy (of Wilco) and Spencer Tweedy (his teenage son and prodigal drummer) made this astounding album together after their wife/mother was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins’ lymphoma. Over 20 songs the Tweedys span folk, rock, noise, psych, and a bit of free jazz. It’s Spencer’s loose drumming that ultimately pulls Jeff’s folk-pop melodies together. At times caterwauling, at others gently tapping out a hint of a rhythm, Spencer Tweedy infuses the songwriting that made his father famous with a youthful bravado rooted in his preternatural love of experimental jazz and avant-garde music. But this juxtaposition works wonders, and Sukierae is all the better for it.
Scott Walker / Sunn O)))) – Soused
This collaboration has been pined for by fans for years. The ever-experimental Walker seems to be moving more and more towards this kind of noise, and who better to provide that doom-laden backdrop then experimental metal duo Sunn O))))? Well, according to Soused, no one. The two meld perfectly, the drama of Walker’s voice enhanced by the swell and squeal of the Sunn O)))) guitars. It could be argued that the record is more a Walker record, while Sunn O)))) just happen to be the backing band. But their sound and their ability to emphasise Walker’s words, and rise above them when needed, casts the music as an equal player to the voice and words of Walker. While its music is not for everyone, it really is a powerful piece of collaboration, of unhinged experimentalism breached by two complimentary talents.
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata
Sitting on the other end of the musical scale from RTJ2, Gibbs and Madlib’s Piñata looks to the past for its inspiration. Madlib is known for his record store trawling, and for his ability to masterfully re-contextualize those old jazz and soul records into the hip hop milieu. This, combined with Gibbs’ deep street voice turns the record into a bastion for black culture, both modern and retro. Like Kendrick Lamar, Danny Brown and others, Gibbs uses Piñata to talk of his rising above the drug dealing and gang violence, the perpetual struggle those vices lock young men into, and self-confidence and respect that comes of moving past those cyclical wars. These themes over the soul and jazz samples that Madlib cuts, spins and drops beneath make this a powerful hip hop record, one that jostles with RTJ2 for the throne.