In 2010, many artists worked on side projects. Some were most certainly something to write home about, or in this case, write a post about. Now that the internet makes it so easy for one to get her/his music heard, more and more artists are working on projects that give them another outlet for all that creative energy that makes them so awesome. As listeners and music lovers, we all get to reap the benefits!
Here are our favorite side projects this year. Some were brand new, some were work in ongoing projects, all are work we hope will continue well into the future.
1. Jonsí – Go (Jonsí of Sigur Rós)
Scott: It seems that Jonsí is simply incapable of creating music that isn’t beautiful, moving and in turns haunting and inspiring. Whether it is with Sigur Rós, with his boyfriend Alex in Jonsí and Alex (formerly known as Riceboy Sleeps), or in his solo work, everything this man touches turns into awesome.
Brian: What more can be said of Jonsí’s talent and ability to create breathtakingly beautiful music that not only can be heard and felt, but seen. Each song conjures images in my mind’s eye that try to match the beauty in the music. As Scott mentioned, now that Jonsí has three outlets for his talent, it looks like we can only try to prepare ourselves for an onslaught of aural genius.
2. Broken Bells – Broken Bells (Danger Mouse, James Mercer of The Shins)
(Currently only $5 on Amazon MP3)
S: If there is anyone who knows how to produce a song, it’s Danger Mouse. The man has been behind so many great projects, from hip hop to indie rock. His work with artists like MF Doom, Beck and The Black Keys has been fantastic. Plus, now he is working with U2, an album that is supposedly coming along swimmingly. There have even been rumors he may eventually collaborate with Black Thought (which would be filed under: ‘news that would make my head explode’).
His work here with James Mercer, while not his best work, is certainly enjoyable. Danger Mouse appears to be a born collaborator, and the combination of Mercer’s lyrics and vocals with DM’s sensibilities is more than worth the price of admission.
B: I love The Shins. I love all of what I’ve heard of Danger Mouse’s production credits. So it should come as no surprise that when the creative force behind The Shins collaborates with one of the most talented producers in the industry, a brilliant record is the end result. James Mercer can write a melody in his sleep. Danger Mouse doesn’t seem to sleep … he only produces great albums. Scott mentioned the U2 project DM is working on. It is something to look forward to, indeed. Though, DM has shown he can cross genres without breaking a sweat and without a drop on the awesomeness scale, so I am excited to see who else (even an artist from this list, maybe?) DM will collaborate with next. I will also patiently wait for the next full length Shins record as well.
Lots of Broken Bells music videos at Vevo.
3. Grinderman – Grinderman 2 (Nick Cave)
(Currently only $5 on Amazon MP3)
Remarkably bizarre, hilarious/disturbing music video for “Heathen Child.” (NSFW)
B: First of all, is there a better album cover from this year?
Nick Cave & Warren Ellis make music that feels like a night in a dirty, divey, bar. You’re sitting at the bar surrounded by a cast of odd characters. There’s the ironic hipster, skinny jeans, too cool for the trendier places, and then there’s everyone else. They’ve been coming here for years. As far as they are concerned, there are no other bars. So they come. Not because it’s cool, but probably because they get more love and attention from the bartender on a nightly basis than they did from their parents during an entire childhood. They’re all forgetting the past with cheap whiskey and chasing it with Pall Malls. This bar only serves two drinks: Cheap beer and cheap whiskey. Don’t think about ordering a microbrew or cocktail. Just make sure you keep the whiskey comin’. You don’t want to be sober in this place. It’d be too scary. It’s dark and loud and claustrophobic. All at once aloof and all up in your grill.
S: I agree with Brian, in that I love this album cover.
I also experience the tones he’s describing in his little bar scene describing this music. Yet, there is one overarching feeling, or perhaps it’s more undergirding, that I think he missed.
In addition to all Brian mentioned, I experience a tremendous deal of dark humor in the music. I think, like Tom Waits, most of the scariness of this bar’s motley lot is meant to amuse more than truly frighten. Like an uncle or a grandfather who shouts and cusses, but does so affectionately, Grinderman is dark and brooding, but always with a smirk.
I think a pretty good example of that is the music video we linked to above. The imagery and artwork in the video is often pretty arresting and captivating, and I think the band took that seriously. Yet, the band refused to take themselves seriously, thus they are ridiculous whenever on screen. Perhaps it’s that love and acceptance Brian mentioned about the allegorical bar, the place is loud and frightening at first glance, but in reality there is no true danger. It is actually a safe place to play and yell and cuss and jump up and down, which is exactly what this Grinderman album is.
4. Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs – God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise
S: Ray LaMontagne is so wonderful. His music is folk and soul and country and rock all wrapped up in a lovely bearded package.
It’s more of the same with the Pariah Dogs, continuing Ray’s track record of immensely listenable albums.
B: Has Mr. LaMontagne ever made a bad record? Has he ever not had a beard? I am starting to wonder if these things are mutually exclusive. Let’s hope that Ray never shaves his beard. I’m beginning to think it holds great power.
On this record, we find Ray, brilliant and dusty voiced as usual, but with the Pariah Dogs (Dawgs?) he seems to have found his musical soulmates. I don’t know, but I feel as though this is Ray’s most cohesive album yet. Everything comes together perfectly. His brand of folkbluesoulcountry is brilliantly showcased on God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise. Do yourself a favor and listen to “This Love is Over”.
5. Junip – Fields (José Gonzalez)
B: Here we have José’s distinctive voice and classical guitar dressed up with the addition of keyboards, bass, and drums. No surprises. It’s good. Really good.
S: Whenever I am listening to this album, I always wonder whether or not this is a one time “side project,” or José Gonzalez’s new gig. I really hope it is the latter. There will always be time for him to sit in the studio on an off day and record a song alone. We’ll never truly lose that familiar José. So, my hope is that we get more of this fuller sound from him, because the other instrumentation adds to the beauty of his music, rather than diminishing it at all.
I hope there is plenty more Junip in our future!
6. Maximum Balloon – Maximum Balloon (David Sitek of TV on the Radio)
B: I was going to start by saying that “Maximum Balloon is a really great TV on the Radio record”, but thought that it would only come off as sounding like somewhat of a negative thing. It is hard to imagine the record sounding much different from a TotR record when the man behind the production of their catalog, and the man contributing to songwriting, is the brains/talent/performer behind Maximum Balloon. David Sitek, otherwise known as “that white guy in TV on the Radio”, brings the same genius of TotR to his solo record. Sure, most of the time it sounds identical stylistically to TotR, but what else should be expected? Just because it sounds like his band doesn’t make it bad, right? Of course not! Kyp Malone, the other guitar player from TotR, released his solo record last year (Rain Machine) and it sounded like a mellower version of TotR, and it was a good record.
On Maximum Balloon, each track introduces us to a different vocalist, including bandmates Tunde Apebimpe and the aforementioned Kyp Malone, as well as Karen O (of Yeah Yeah Yeahs fame) and even David Byrne! The music, of course, is awesome, and I really love how Sitek deviates by using guest vocalists. The album is funky, danceable, and full of bassy synths, programmed beats, and Sitek’s unique guitar playing. In other words, it’s a great TV on the Radio record … and that’s not a bad thing at all.
S: Nothing to add. My favorite thing about this album is the vocal guest stars Brian already mentioned. Hooray for collaboration!