Following the recent collaboration between Radiohead and Doom (formerly MF Doom), this week’s Stereo looks at some of music’s more curious unions. The past hasn’t been good to use in this regard – abominations like Ozzy Osbourne with Miss Piggy, Bowie & Jagger, and Kurtis Blow with Bob Dylan will forever stain our memories -, so we’ve decided to show you when it clicks:
The Black Keys with Ludacris and Ol’ Dirty Bastard – ‘Coochie’
Perhaps the strangest thing about this collaboration is the fact that Ol’ Dirty Bastard had been dead for five years when this was released. The vocal for the track had been recorded years earlier, it was then mixed with input from Def Jam resident Ludacris and The Black Keys’ homegrown beats. Anyone who thinks this kind of behaviour falls into the realm of sacrilege will be delighted to know that there’s a full album of these shenanigans. Recorded in 2009, Blakroc features hip hop gems like Mos Def, NOE, Pharoahe Monch, Q-Tip, as well as Wu-Tang soldiers RZA and Raekwon, all rapping over the wailing bon fide blues of The Black Keys. For something that should make avid Keys fans cringe, this is actually very enjoyable.
N.A.S.A with Tom Waits and Kool Keith – ‘Spacious Thoughts’
N.A.S.A (North America/South America) have eclecticism built into them, it’s pretty much their ethos. They look to transcend genres, races, creeds, and styles by adopting everything and everyone, “No rules. That’s the M.O.”.That still just doesn’t seem like a good enough explanation as to why Tom Waits is growling over a hip hop track in his trademark rusty grumble. Yet somehow he fits snugly into the track. One of the main reasons the song works is because there’s no back and forth between Waits and Kool Keith, that would just end in disaster. Instead they both politely step aside and let the other do his thing. The end result is strange but alluring – it’s like someone has managed adequately mix whisky and champagne.
Kieran Hebden (a.k.a Four Tet) and Steve Reid – ‘Our Time’
Depending on which circles you swing in either of these two could be the bigger name but it’s unlikely that anyone would be familiar with both simultaneously prior to their Exchange Sessions Vol.1 in 2006. As a ‘60s jazz drummer Reid played with legends like Sun Ra, James Brown, Miles Davis, and Fela Kuti. Whereas Hebden’s collaborations lie with artists like Burial, Thom Yorke, and Caribou. The sheer polar opposites in musical background is what makes this merger so interesting. After meeting through a mutual friend, Antoine at the Paris Jazz Corner, the two musicians decided they could benefit from each others influences. Reid was keen to weave modern electronic elements into jazz, something he felt was never undertaken properly; Hebden relished at the thought of capturing the acute exchanges of ‘70s free jazz duos. After playing some improv shows in Paris they quickley recorded two volumes of unrehearsed jams (The Exchange Sessions), before cutting a full length LP in 2007 titled Tongues. In true free jazz style it’s widely improvised and completely unedited, which does make for some hectic recordings but is ultimately a testament to the raw talent and versatility of both artists. This is where classic meets contemporary, and it surges beautifully.
Grizzly Bear with Michael McDonald – ‘While You Wait for the Others’
Micheal McDonald isn’t exactly a household name but his former groups The Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan will surely ring some bells. McDonald’s heyday was long since past when this collaboration first saw the light of day in 2009. In the ‘70s he flaunted the softest areas of soft rock. Suffice it to say he’s dabbled in his fair share of cheesy fluff – past duets with Kenny Loggins speak volumes -, which makes his partnership with Grizzly Bear infinitely confusing. The initiative came from bassist Chris Taylor who got his girlfriend’s father to give a copy of the track to McDonald, seeing as they were old friends. McDonald was initially reluctant, smelling a ruse, but after a few listens admitted that he loved the song and was happy to contribute. Released as a b-side to the original, McDonald’s take simply replaces Edward Droste’s vocals, everything else remains the same. This is arguably Grizzly Bear’s best song so altering it in this manner was clearly a risky venture but it’s paid off. The seasoned voice of McDonald adds a certain husky quality that indie’s been lacking all these years.
Venetian Snares, John Frusciante, and Chris McDonald – ‘March_Four’
Under the moniker Speed Dealer Moms the unlikely trio released a self titled EP in 2010. Given Snares’ nefarious breakcore onslaughts, Frusciante’s luminous guitar work, and McDonald’s guttural noise making, the entire project seems destined for collapse but somehow it works. Perhaps Frusciante had a soporific effect on the other two sound demons because this can get quite melodic at times. Of course it’s still frenetically haunting in it’s own way but the harsh junglist drum patterns that dominate Snares’ other works are mostly discarded. Considering the level of segueing at work here it’s surprising that the whole thing was recorded as an unedited jam session with each artist diving in and out at their discretion. If you like Frusciante for his work in the Red Hot Chili Peppers this one may come as a shock.