In all art, sometimes you need to isolate yourself from the distractions and create what is truly your own. And other times you need someone standing over your shoulder saying, “Actually, how about we try this instead?” These collaborations show how far music can go when you add in a little outside perspective:
Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar
While there is no doubt that Lamar’s hip-hop career has far exceeded the reach of Flying Lotus’s experimental electro-jazz, the rapper was clearly the one who had to step up his game. There is so much going on in “Never Catch Me,” and packs such an unexpected right hook halfway through, that it required someone with a flow and confidence that could match its scope. Lamar pulled it off, but the real star of this collaboration are the two undead stars of the video.
Brian Eno and David Hyde
This collaboration was so successful that two albums were released this year. There is a lot to digest between Someday World and High Life, with some missteps and throwaway tracks, but the atmospheres explored by ex-Underworld’s Hyde and Eno, a rock/electronic pioneer and true musician’s musician, can be stunning. The combination of African rhythms, pop guitar picking and skitchy electronica sampling on “Lilac” showcases both of their strengths as well as something beautiful and unexpected.
FKA Twigs and Inc.
Trip-hop’s new queen didn’t need help from anyone to win people over with her dreamy R&B, but it doesn’t hurt to go the extra mile. By joining with the brothers Aged of the Los Angeles-based Inc., she had help crafting a song so sweet and fragile you’re worried it will break apart if you press replay.
Death Grips and Bjork
Bjork had these controversial punk-rappers remix a couple of her songs two years ago, and they repaid the favor by having her collaborate on 8 tracks for their mini-album suicide note Niggas on the Moon. “Up My Sleeves” is a spastic piledriver that would be almost too off-putting to hear if it weren’t for the Icelandic pixie’s background vocals acting as a silken buffer.
Scott Walker and Sunn 0)))
You won’t find a more disturbing, outlandish and compelling collaboration maybe this decade. The pop-star-turned-madman Walker guided the cloak-wearing drone disciples to create something that tries its best to defy explanation and, honestly, they truly succeeded. If you haven’t been utterly baffled by a song recently, try “Brando.”
Four Tet and Jaime xx
We’re pretty sure that haunting vocal hook is from Jamie’s bandmate Romy Madley Croft. But either way, to hear these two producers loop beats around such an ethereal melody on “Seesaw” is endlessly fascinating and demands to be put on repeat.
PT Anderson and Jonny Greenwood
The director of the upcoming Inherent Vice is not a musician, but acts like one the way he integrates music into his movies (remember the sing-a-long in Magnolia?). He first collaborated with Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood for There Will be Blood, creating one of the most unnerving scores in recent memory. And even though this film is a far more lighthearted farce, that didn’t keep Greenwood from creating traditional noir pieces that make you want to throw on a trenchcoat and pocket a revolver.