The massive influx of collaborative albums, split EPs, and compilations is perhaps the finest indication of the renewal of community among musicians. It’s one thing to see bands wearing another band’s t-shirt in our Shot By The Band series or at a show we attended. But to set aside creative ego to collaborate on a body of work, to share the b-side of a cassette tape or slab of vinyl with your favorite band is a movement that harkens back to one of our favorite ’90s traditions.
Decent songs that lacked a je ne sais quoi to make the album did not die on the cutting room floor in 2014. They were sent off to foster homes with other misfit orphan songs, and together they found a home. Here are our favorite splits, compilations, and collaborations of the year.
International bff’s Perfect Pussy and Joanna Gruesome took their friendship to a whole new level with a 24 page comic by Phil McAndrew, the brother of PP guitarist Ray McAndrew, which you can preview here. The 7″ includes new materials and covers from both bands. Perfect Pussy cover The Sugarcubes’ “Leash Called Love” as well as a new track, “Adult World (The Secret)”. Their Welsh comrades have recorded a cover of “…And Keep Reaching For Those Stars” by the ’90s emo band I Hate Myself, and a tune called “Psykick Espionage”.
Sometimes experiences defy words and induce a sort of synesthetic response, which makes the task of writing about those experiences particularly difficult. “Come Over”, the new single from wacko Brooklynite pop-darling Jerry Paper is a perfect example of such an experience; it’s hard to describe the song’s sound just by explaining the sonic arc. The vocals move into the upper register when the feel transitions into a slow shuffle (replete with retro synth bass), and we’re urged to “come on over” to Jerry Paper’s place. And who wouldn’t want to come on over, when Jerry Paper’s world is one of digital reworkings of the physical world, reconceptualized in its visualization, warped in both its sense of humor and hopeless romanticism.
Canadian producer Ryan Hemsworth started his ambitious Soundcloud project, Secret Songs, with the intent of releasing a new song from an up-and-coming producer every two weeks. As a pleasant surprise, Secret Song’s dropped its first full fledged compilation entitled shh#ffb6c1. Living up to the spirit and name of the project, this comp is packed full with amazing tracks from people you may or may not be so familiar with, including names like et aliae, Japan’s Qrion, Ellie Herring, and London’s bilingual pop stars Kero Kero Bonito.
Unable to ignore the tragedies in Ferguson, MO, Beavercreek, OH, Staten Island, NY, and Los Angeles, CA, Willie Green crafted a three-movement suite, entitled A Suite For Souled People, with the assistance of Armand Hammer and Curly Castro. As Green notes in his accompanying statement with the release, it’s not just about the recent events, but the continued oppression of black people in America who are told to “be quiet and gracious about their anger.”
A Suite For Souled People opens with sirens and sound bytes from Ferguson, namely Dorian Johnson delivering his eye witness account the day he fled for his life as his friend was murdered by officer Darren Wilson. Another voice interjects, “this has been going on before Michael Brown, this been going on before Trayvon Martin, before Emmett Till. This been going on a long time.” Willie Green’s enters the fabric, discovering the unspoken truths of the under represented that has always been part of a seemingly picturesque American life. He distorts bird chirps and church bells—traditionally symbols of peace, tranquility, and haven—into harbingers of a message the media and those in power aim to quell.
If the negative connotation of split records is its a dump box of leftovers, then turn that into the split’s greatest strength by selecting four of the strongest songwriters in East Coast indie rock. Hey Krill, feeling weird about the awkward misreads of “Peanut Butter”? Slide it into this split with your pals. Oh, LVL UP already has a song about a DIY space on its record? Put that other one about that other space here. OVLOV is already doing two split records in 2014? Why not three? Sam from Radiator Hospital has a couple songs he wrote but didn’t sing on the recording? Make it so.
After three EPs over three years, Madlib and Freddie Gibbs made it official with Piñata, a 17-track excursion through timeless alleyways of blaxploitation samples, turkey bags of greenery, and Hennessy served out of the Stanley Cup. The Gangsta and the Konducta find middle ground that never slips too deep into Lord Quasian weirdness nor too deep into the bitter realities of the street life.
Don’t say that Valentine’s Day never brought you anything besides a sugar coma and melancholy. New York label GODMODE warmed our frozen hearts with a comp called Common Interests Were Not Enough To Keep Us Together, and it’s like looking into a box of Russell Stovers to discover that the chocolates are all filled with noise and postpunk and experimental R&B, and maybe one leftover coconut macaroon. With label newcomers Father Figure and old favorites Sleepies, the comp exhibited a hefty breadth of GODMODE’s current projects, and encouraged sooner-rather-than-later breakups. As labelmaster Nick Sylvester put it, this is “not exactly a subtle breakup with ourselves.”
Gnarwhal is the latest band to have graced our ears with a math rock sound. Out of Nashville, Tennessee the duo deliver precise polyrhythms and fractured structures always on the move. “Scooter Park” is a driven track with plenty of face-melting guitar riffs segmented throughout while singer Chappy Hull wails in a haunting rasp through bursts of rage.
The Hussy’s “Round & Down” conjures an image of that slightly beaten-up, cloud grey 1992 Volvo 740 Turbo sedan (boxy, but reliable!) at the back of the high school parking lot, smoke seeping out of the cracks at the tops of the windows and a fragrant eau de weed dispersing through the parking lot. “Round & Down” is an extension of the fun breed of psych rock the Madison, Wisconsin-based group have been producing for the past few years.
The tape is four songs long, featuring each band covering the other. Girlpool’s version of Slutever’s “White Flag” simultaneously gives space and urgency to an already perfect anti-anthem on boredom: “I just gotta get away until my head’s clear, I can’t create I’m not inspired here.” There is a jaw-dropping simplicity to the way Girlpool operates that demands you not just listen to, but actually hear, every word of every line. It’s effective and also radical. Slutever’s take on Girlpool’s “Blah Blah Blah” turns it into a classic girl-gang garage punk rager, pumping even more energy into a song that ripped when it was just guitar and bass.
With big distorted guitars and frontman Joe Galarraga’s characteristic loud vocals, “Rash” is about as sludgy as Big Ups gets. It alternates between Galarraga’s yelling and a muffled spoken part. At under two minutes, it’s a brief burst of frustrated energy that leaves a real dent. Washer’s “Rot” opens with a warm chunky jangle. The lyrics tell the story of a pretty demanding internal struggle. “Overthink for the worst/morning subway as a hearse/10 by 75 feet to think about your life/for 30 minutes at a time/hostile contact strangers eyes”. All that self-comparison, isolation, existential confusion, all the stressful makings of a the narrator’s and the title’s fatalistic end. “All I want to do is rot.” The bouncy grunge track, though, doesn’t leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth. Instead pulling you (and perhaps Washer themselves) out of that thought cycle and into a more upbeat mood.
RED WALL, (Boyle) and Piles EP (self-released)
“Unfortunately for you, RED WALL is not a rap crew,” insists the opening track on the debut collaboration from milo (Rory Ferreira) and Safari Al(Alexander Kollman of the Dilla Gents). The duo make clear from the outset that they’re here to subvert all expectations we may have of them. “RED WALL is an anti-band focused on documenting moments,” the liner notes explain, “a poet’s guild offering protection.” Lyrically,(Boyle) and Piles is an examination of the politics of living and of blackness through documentation of the everyday, as milo and S.Al articulate recurrent thought patterns that continually lead back to questions of race and ideology.
California’s Toys That Kill and Joyce Manor are not kidding around; the two punk rock groups make the ideal match. Joyce Manor’s “Tame” is anything but, and thank goodness for that—they’ve kept their revved-up pop punk sound with its uptempo smattering of bright guitars and crashing cymbals. The song is a minute and a half of frustrated intimations from the voice of someone who’s been spending all his time watching TV, playing on the couch, staring at the wall. “Times We Can’t Let Go” is the perfect complement to that. Toys That Kills’ track is more bluntly intimate, touching on times spent alone with someone who’s been around for a while but, the lyrics suggest, is already on their way out.
Philly’s +HIRS+, pioneers of feminist and queer thrash/grindcore, took it upon themselves to cover a different track every day for the month of October—no small endeavor, particularly when the artists you’re covering range from experimental pop punk outfit Bad Canoes to System of a Down. The 31-track record (excluding the spooky intro and outro) comes off a split with SLOTHSPRING, who offered up an 18-minute track for balance.
The collaboration sparked up a year ago, when Oozing Wound opened for Black Pus in Chicago. A track called “Blood Will Run” opens the Black Pus side and promises to deliver as-yet-unheard range to Brian Chippendale’s vocals. Another, “Total Eclipse,” runs for 14 thrillingly noise-filled minutes. Oozing Wound contribute three studio tracks, including riff monsters “Ganja Gremlin,” and “Aging Punk,” and the sludgy “All Things Must Pass Out.”
Chicago’s Spencer Radcliffe and L.A. native R.L. Kelly (alias for Rachel Levy) make an exceptionally compatible duo on Brown Horse. Though Radcliffe’s brand of heady and meandering pop isn’t perfectly congruent with Levy’s simple, saccharine tunes, the two converge on a thematic plane. Ultimately, Brown Horse is a record about yearning, whether it’s for a past we can no longer access or an idyllic future that may never actually play out. R. L. Kelly and Spencer Radcliffe both convey an understated authority, bordering the line between youth and maturity, self-deprecation and self-assurance, and quietly asserting themselves through their liminality.
Dream Collabo is a Bay Area-based creative project involving the pledging of cash to see two artists collaborate. The first collaboration in this experimental new platform is a two-track cycle with Squadda B of Main Attrakionz and Yalls. On “Armageddon” Yalls’ Dan Casey flips a Bizzy Bone vocal—”must be close to the Armageddon”—over strained keys, while Squadda encourages his followers to hold on an feel it in their bone gristle until the rapturous ending. “MANlife” is enlivened by Casey’s keys, which flutter in a call and response with his guitar. It offsets the simplicity of “Armageddon”, but each track employs similar techniques binding them to the session as a cohesive piece.
The Welsh quintet of Joanna Gruesome kept busy with side projects and touring, but only released one song since Weird Sister, a heartbreaking cover of Galaxie 500’s “Tugboat“. All that changed with the release of the first single from a split with Bristol’s Trust Fund, titled “Jerome (Liar)”. The tune is less of a pulverizing sugar assault (a “Sugarcrush” if you will) than many of the tracks on Weird Sister, but anyone who has listened to the band knows to expect, well, Secret Surprises in each track.
Coming in at 28 singles of contributions from some of today’s artists that think and hear their worlds differently, the Birmingham, Alabama label presents some of the best news and talents from the global fabrics of free thinking, creative spirits. Compilation 1 begins with the DARK WEB lord of Giant Claw’s soda-commercial sounds on “Sentimental Special (Only 4 U)” where Keith Rankin keeps pushing the conceptual and the comprehensive universal understanding of audio identity and response theorems. Noumenal Loom’s Compilation 1 is essential listening for those interested in the next realms to be discovered from the communities of bedroom cassette pop.
In 2011, Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic of Sonic Sum introduced their rap group Hail Mary Mallon with the spit kicker tour de force Are You Gonna Eat That? on Rhymesayers. As solo artists both rappers navigated murky waters of avant garde rap, both deeply-rooted in the dystopian and abstract. As Hail Mary Mallon, they put their artistic aspirations aside to write visceral missives against shadowy contenders who dared doubt their rap acumen. It was the closest either rapper had ever veered towards the traditional and yet remained futuristically sound. After three years of touring as the deadliest tag team since Marty Jannetty and the Heartbreak Kid, Hail Mary Mallon returned on record with Bestiary, an album dedicated to setting the dials to beast mode.
Closing the gap between global DIY scenes, New York’s smooth thrash trio Mannequin Pussy teamed up with the UK garage duo, Dog Legs on a split release EP and zine. Instead of Crumb Cabin’s usual split EP/zine formula (one band makes the art for another band’s songs), this seven-track release includes songs and artwork from both bands in a 16-page Riso printed zine. Both bands even cover a track by their transatlantic co-collaborator for the global tape.
With their second collaboration, Savage Imagination, Wong and Minekawa truly break free. Savage Imagination takes their collaboration one step further: served in quick, easily digestible bites, their sonic experiments are impossibly vivid. Minekawa’s breathy, childlike vocals intertwine with tinkering, glitchy noise, playful melodies, and of course, Wong’s intricate guitar work. Traditional Japanese sounds are also explored, which makes the journey of Savage Imagination feel like a fairy-tale soundtrack. Tenacious but never static, it’s brimming with miniature electro-pop gems that dazzle across a colorful landscape. Savage Imagination blossoms at every turn, a prime example of what happens when a golden collaboration reaches full maturity.
The Def Kith EP is three suites (“Twin Speak” is digital only) that masterfully carve a new path with a futurist mindset that keeps John Carpenter and Herbie Hancock relevant decades beyond their master works. Those two touch tones collide on “Tet a Tet” with an in-the-pocket tension that never eases, even as the percussion transgresses into a Chicago house pace. Indeed, lurking in the depths of each suite on the EP is the potential for unbridled movement that must be patiently discovered, like the groove that catapults “False Starts” out of its rigid programming. The Deth Kith EP thrives in a space that feels like IDM, but never quite commits to that head space entirely. Hints of kraut rock, jazz fusion, and nu-disco infiltrate the systematic production, sustaining metamorphosis until the needle reaches the center of the record.
Portland label Dropping Gems live up to its name in its latest compilation full of great tracks entitled Gem Drops Four. According to Dropping Gems’ Soundcloud this collection of songs was “chosen to highlight emotive material, as always, and the manner in which our contributors pursue this impression is as hazy and off-kilter as you’d expect.”
Dog and Big Neck Police are two dark and sinister bands, so it’s fitting that the pair released an extremely dark and sinister split on a tape. Both of these bands push into territory where dissonance takes precedence over all, and jagged structures take hold of jagged worlds. “Oh, easy does it!” sings Paco Cathcart with an agonizing wail on “On the Stairs”, the opening track to the Big Neck side, as if he’s trying to cap a lid on something that is completely out of his or anyone else’s control. While, Dog are a bunch of cyborgs playing alien music from some intergalactic hell. Nothing about Dog sounds human, and while Big Neck preserves the fucked up side of humanity, Dog strays away from anything remotely earth-like.