Top Duo Tracks, Part II: 8 More Tunes to Move You

Tegan and Sara performing onstage
Tegan and Sara, Image Credit: Dustin Rabin via Wikimedia Commons

by Shira Richman

Just as food fuels the human body, duo-tracks nourish and sustain a musical duo. Here are some that keep us happy, healthy, and humble. One reason we’re currently powering up is that we have been invited to be interviewed on our favorite radio program, Lokale Leidenschaften (Local Passion), a weekly show on Nuremberg’s Radio-Z. More details will be available on Facebook and Instagram. In the meantime, we hope you’ll find some joy, awe, twirls, hops, and cathartic resolve from the following songs.

1. “How Did We Get So Dark?” Royal Blood

The primary members: Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher
Be sure to check out: The melancholy note on “dark” against the bright “oh”s in the chorus–the music manifests the meaning of the lyrics, darkness against sweetness–and the wild drums that nearly feel like they will ride you away during the guitar solo, yet somehow they keep it all together.
Favorite lyric: How did something so sweet tear us apart? / Oh / On a sinking ship with a heavy heart / Oh oh / How did we get so dark?

2. “Boyfriend,” Tegan and Sara

The primary members: Tegan Rain Quin and Sara Keirsten Quin
Be sure to check out: Each turn of this dynamic number yields delightful surprise. Even though the song is called “Boyfriend,” I enjoy the unexpected moment when these sisters claim they feel like they are being treated like a boyfriend; the claim intrigues me, makes me wonder how a boyfriend is treated. The silence before the last line of the chorus is powerful, giving impact to the sentiment of not wanting to be kept secret.
Favorite lyric: Tell you that I love you, that I can’t hold back / The feeling that you give me, wanna give right back
(I appreciate that they manage to rhyme “back” with itself while making it seem like it is two different words and also the yearning captured so succinctly–the desire for someone to feel for you as you feel for them.)

3. “Ocean Eyes,” Billie Eilish

The primary members: Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell and Finneas O’Connell
Be sure to check out: 
The orchestral way in which voices are mixed. In the chorus Billie’s voice floats in and out in more layers than the ear can track. It’s also nice to hear the depth increased at 1:22 when Finneas comes in for a phrase. The baseline in the chorus adds oceanic depth against Billie’s smooth flowing vocal lines.
Favorite lyric: 
Burning cities and napalm skies / Fifteen flares inside those ocean eyes

4. “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore,” Phantogram

The primary members: Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter
Be sure to check out: The strain in Sarah’s voice when she sings “You don’t get me high anymore” infuses the song a desperation that adds the necessary pathos to this song. The conversation between the intense vocals and the low grinding synthesizer creates a compelling contrast. The song begins with an irresistible energy that does not let up, in fact it will likely ignite what’s wild in you.
Favorite lyric:  Runnin’ through emergency rooms / Spinning wheels and ceiling fans / My handshake, cellophane, landscape, mannequin / Faking it the best I can / It’s Cadillac, Cadillac red / No hands on the steering wheel / I’m crashing this save-a-ho puppet show / UFO obliterate the way I feel

5. “How It Will End,” EXES

The primary members: Allie McDonald and Mike Derenzo
Be sure to check out: In the chorus the vocal line is static with a delightful lift on “with you,” and then there is the break on, “myself,” the point from which the melody and rhythm soar.
Favorite lyric: So if somebody told me / I would still be this in love with you / I’d go back to the party where it started / And I’d introduce myself / Over again / Even when I know / How it will end

6. “Sweet Dreams,” Eurythmics

The primary members: Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart
Be sure to check out: The bouncing synth groove that starts the song and continues throughout the verses and chorus, offering counterpoint to Lennox’s rich, smooth voice. The song specializes in repetition with variations on each theme to keep it fresh. For instance, at 1:47 the harmony dominates the pre-chorus. Around three minutes in, the melody and harmony coalesce evenly, in a moment of profound satisfaction. (Video bonus–the sexy cow at 1:24.)
Favorite lyric:  Sweet dreams are made of this / Who am I to disagree / I travel the world and the seven seas / Everybody’s looking for something

7. “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” The White Stripes

The primary members: Jack White and Meg White
Be sure to check out: The lyrics are brilliant in their ongoing theme of communicating in forms other than words–specifically through sounds: a falling piano, the sound of lips, breath, and those notes in the mailbox. The thrashing crashing of the drums against the varying guitar riffs imbues the song with a bit of drunkenness. I especially love the moments of wincing guitar distortion and raw cracks in Jack’s voice, along with the walking bassline at 2:36.
Favorite lyric: Thirty notes in the mailbox / Will tell you that I’m coming home

8. “You Are the Problem Here,” First Aid Kit

The primary members: Johanna Söderberg and Klara Söderberg
Be sure to check out: The vocal expression in this song is arresting–especially on the word “tears” at 00:54. Another highlight in terms of vocal intensity–where melody also shines–is at 1:37, the part that also closes the song (2:47). The harmony breakout moment will overtake you at 2:15–watch out, it’s powerful.
Favorite lyric: Do you really expect anyone to feel sorry / That you ruined your own life? / You did it when you thought you had the right to / Put your entitled hands up her thighs

As always, we’re eager to hear about your favorite duo tracks and the particular moments of tunes that move you. Feel free to leave us breadcrumbs in the comments section below, or if it’s easier, on Facebook or Instagram, where we are always up for a chatty snack. And to see more of our favorite duo tracks, see part one of this series.

Top Duo Tracks, Part I: 8 Tunes That Make Us Groove

Killer Mike & El-P of Run the Jewels
Killer Mike & El-P of Run the Jewels, Image Credit: Julio Enriquez via Wikimedia Commons

By Shira Richman

As we prepare our next single (available soon!), we turn to other duos to keep the inspiration humming. Though we trust you will ultimately remain faithful to us, your favorite Divorce, we can’t resist sharing these eight temptations (two more installments to come). While you listen, we hope you’ll get in a few belted aaahs, mosh hops, hair whips, hip twists, and air synth riffs.

1. “Need Your Love,” Tennis

The primary members: Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley
Be sure to check out: The dry surprising beats in the opening, luscious vocals alternating between one catchy melody after another, and the way the gears grind when the song is slammed into a different tempo.
Favorite lyric: I need your love / And I need your touch / Like I need a bolt of lightning / From the sky above

2. “Impossible Tracks,” The Kills

The primary members: Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince
Be sure to check out: The low, gravelly driving guitar groove against the gorgy, angsty vocals.
Favorite lyric: And we hold our smiles inside / Like we’re holding back the tide / And we stride in perfect meter / Like the sun won’t ever rise

3. “Get It,” Run the Jewels

The primary members: El-P and Killer Mike
Be sure to check out: The syncopated rhythms, Killer Mike’s “nah,” sharply pruned samples that spray and burst into the mix, and vocals that both dodge and lumber with agility and heft.
Favorite lyric: I’m stuck in a time capsule when rap was actually factual / Meaning shit you spit might cause killers to come and clap at you / Stupid, goofy, stooly, the gooch in Gucci will slap you / And that go for the cop-kissing cats that’s in the back of you

4. “Hold Me Close,” Overcoats

The primary members: Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell
Be sure to check out: The harmonies throughout, but especially on the lyrics “so hold me close till the night turns gray / different faces but the song’s the same,” which first occur 29 seconds in on the recording below; also, after a whole song of vocal parts that veer toward each other and away, at the end the two voices are separated and you hear clearly each voice’s particular timbre.
Favorite lyric: He’s a man of warnings / Talks like I need to know / But he’ll always own / The ground I walk alone

5. “It’s Just Us Now,” Sleigh Bells

The primary members: Alexis Krauss and Derek Edward Miller
Be sure to check out: The heartbeat against a baroque guitar riff in the opening measures, and the cathartic release in the belted vocals of the chorus.
Favorite Lyric: Free of wreckage / Down below licking streets / I believe deeply / In decency (indecency) / And when I’m conscious, I am cursed / Shark teeth the size of pick-up trucks / All that flesh and blood

6. “It’s a Sin,” Pet Shop Boys

The primary members: Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe
Be sure to check out: The beat you can’t help but move to even while reflecting on shame and sin; the high register of diction while still sounding naughty and rock-star-ish (At school they taught me how to be / So pure in thought and word and deed / They didn’t quite succeed); the clever way “too” and “to” hold themselves out like hooks for “It’s a sin” to hang from; the feeling evoked in the one line that diverges from the otherwise careful rhyming: “Cause I didn’t care / And I still don’t understand.”
Favorite lyric: Father, forgive me / I tried not to do it / Turned over a new leaf / Then tore right through it

7. “Hey Ya!” Outkast

The primary members: André 3000 and Big Boi
Be sure to check out: The irresistible urge to hop up and around the moment you hear “My baby don’t mess around”; the repetition of “alright” that means both “hold on” and “all’s good”; the surprise of “shake it” becoming about Polaroid pictures; utter, ongoing, glorious imaginative spins.
Favorite lyric: You think you’ve got it / Oh, you think you’ve got it / But got it just don’t get it / ‘Til there’s nothing at all

8. “Die Young,” Sylvan Esso

The primary members: Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn
Be sure to check out: The taut opening percussion like a bouncing rubber bell; the nasal, stirring synths that underlie the smooth vocals of the chorus; the simultaneously sombre and surprising sentiment of the chorus: I was gonna die young / Now I gotta wait for you, hun
Favorite lyric: I was a firecracker, baby, with something to prove / Now I gotta contend with the living blues / I could’ve missed it, and never knew / Chain reaction but you’re holding the fuse

To hear our take on the duo, listen here.

To enjoy these songs and others on our Favorite Duos playlist, here you go.

Please let us know your favorite music duo tracks in the comments section below.

9 Reasons to Collaborate Musically with Your Lover

Musical collaboration in action--Matt and Kim play a live show
Matt and Kim, living the dream! Image Credit: Drew de F Fawkes via Wikimedia Commons

By Shira Richman

Musical collaboration with your honey might be the missing ingredient in the most satiating iteration of your life. Musicians like Beyonce, Jay-Z, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, the couples in New Order, Arcade Fire and other earth-shatteringly good bands embody irresistible reasons to collaborate with your lover.

What about Ike and Tina, you may be asking. Or Sonny and Cher? Musical collaboration can be tricky. You may not think it’s worth risking your most central relationship for fame and fortune. Who will you eat dinner with when you and your lover disagree about how many times to repeat the chorus?

Sean Lennon describes the challenges of collaboration with a lover as “throwing yourself into the lion’s pit in a way because it’s exposing yourself to a lot of difficult emotional attachments and ego bruising and all that kind of stuff.” But that doesn’t scare him away. Ultimately, he finds profound satisfaction in collaborating musically with his lover and offers one of the most compelling reasons you should give it a go.

1. Spend quality time together

Early on, Sean Lennon found that making art was a way to spend quality time with his mother, Yoko. He finds that artistic collaboration offers the opportunity to connect intimately with someone. This was an impetus for forming The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger with his girlfriend Charlotte Kemp Muhl. When he started dating Muhl, who had a demanding modeling career, he discovered that writing and playing music together was not only exciting and rewarding, but also “a good way of guaranteeing that we would actually spend time together.”

2. Use the music project like therapy

We all know about some of the struggles that Beyonce and Jay-Z have survived. When infidelity came between them, each created an album in which the topic is covered. It makes sense that they would use an album as a medium to talk to each other, too. As Jay-Z put it, “we were using our art almost like a therapy session. And we started making music together.” While creating the album Everything Is Love, The Carters experienced some beautiful realizations. For instance, when Beyonce first listened to Jay-Z’s “713” lyrics about the first time they met, she hugged him and said, “Oh my God, you remember!”

3. Maximize complementarity

Often we are attracted to those who have qualities we lack. Combining the strengths of both members of a couple presents the potential to balance opposing aptitudes. Gloria Estefan identifies this is a bedrock of her decades-long musical collaboration with her husband, Emilio Estefan, through their band Miami Sound Machine. She marvels at Estefan’s energy while she is the one who can sit at the mixing board for hours, making adjustments so minute “that most people won’t hear but they’ll feel.”

4. Put honesty to good use

Many of us are more honest with our partners than with others, a trait that can be crucial in finetuning a creation. Alaina Moore of Tennis points out the importance of this dynamic in writing and producing music with her husband, Patrick Riley. “The fact of our being married and having a really close partnership allows us to be extremely forthright with our feedback. I can show Pat something, and he’ll just be like, no.” A deep respect for each other’s opinions prevents them from finding this frankness wounding, she explains. Instead, they are able to “shake it off and trust each other.”

5. Build on shared principles

Shared values are foundational to many a romantic relationship and can be a solid starting point for a purpose-driven music project. Odaymara Cuesta Rosseau and Olivia Prendes Riverón met and fell in love through their shared activism in Havana. They joined forces and formed the band, Krudas Cubensi, through which they use hip hop to promote queer power, body positivity, the beauty of blackness, and overall inclusivity. To put it in Prendes’ words, “the ideas of social justice, equality and resistance will always outpour on the chords and melodies of our songs.”

6. Sneak it in during odd times

Most bands need to have scheduled rehearsal times each week, but musical collaboration can be much more fluid for the romantically involved. For instance, Win Butler and Regine Chassagne, the couple at the center of Arcade Fire, find time like spare change in the corners of their parenting days. When their son was singing their song “You Don’t Deserve Love,” they asked where he learned it. He replied that he heard them playing it while he was falling asleep. They have also been known to record ambient sounds while out on a date, such as slot machines for the song “Put Your Money on Me.”

7. Inspire your children

When children are young, they might not notice all of the amazing things their parents do. This was the case with the two daughters of Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris of New Order. When one of their daughters required special physical care, Gilbert stayed at home with the girls. Ten years later, when she rejoined New Order, her daughters were keenly aware of how cool it was that their mother played guitar and keyboards in a band. It was at this point that the Gilbert-Morris daughters began writing songs, playing the piano, and forming their own bands.

8. Make time on the road homey

If every band member were to bring their dog on tour, it could be tricky. In Leroy’s case, though, it’s no problem. His parents are Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter of the music duo, Phantogram. When they’re on the road, so is he, and they all seem pretty pleased with the arrangement. “He keeps us happy; he keeps us less stressed,” Sarah says as Leroy lounges on her lap.

9. Maximize self-care

Of course, the lives of musicians can be grueling: sleeping away from home for months at a time, long drives between shows, bar food, lots of drinking, and late nights. Things are different when you have your lover on board. “The thing is when you’re on tour with your significant other, it’s not like you’re trying to go to the nightclub to get laid after your show,” says Kim of Matt and Kim. “The draw to go out to an after party if you’re not trying to do it is a lot less,” adds Matt. These two seem to have it down: save time and get sleep while still getting some.

Which of these reasons resonates most with you? What others would you suggest? Let us know by leaving a comment. To hear the results of our not-always-so-romantic musical collaboration, listen to some Divorce tunes available here.

A Dangerous Idea Instilled in 7 Beats of Sylvan Esso

Electronic pop duo Sylvan Esso performs at South by Southwest.
Image Credit: friedoxygen, via Wikimedia Commons

By Shira Richman

I first encountered the electronic pop duo Sylvan Esso in a Tiny Desk Concert. This three-song introduction set the Divorce wheels a turning.

1) First it was Amanda Meath’s voice. It stopped me like a rabbit catching a whiff of clover in an overgrown field: sweet, sinewy, smooth notes stretching and stitching infectious melodies.

2) Once she begins to move, you will likely be curious to see what she’ll do next. She reaches out her arms, and their swaying seems to ripple through her tiny body, right to the little stumps of her platform boots. Her fingertips flick the air, seemingly creating bright splashes of chimes, but that auditory sparkle is made by the other half of the duo.

3) Nick Sanborn’s movements are also hypnotic. He makes an ever-surprising array of sounds from buttons, faders, and dials, his long fingers turning, adjusting, and punching in a complex choreography, all the while flashing a tattoo on his forearm.

4) It looks like a flow chart, and if you’re like me, you’ll train your eyes on it, transfixed, until you see that it is: on the right arm every minor chord progression in Western music is depicted, and the left arm shines all possible major chords. Apparently, he refers to these graphics while composing music. This is a good life hack for someone who claims he is a space cadet. No more time spent looking for the sketch on an envelope.

5) The set of complementary talents between these two quirky humans felt familiar: I write lyrics, melodies, sing, dance, and have a penchant for platform shoes. Tracy is an accomplished and creative composer, multi-instrumentalist, arranger, producer, mixer, recorder, knob-turner, fader adjuster, and button puncher.

6) A clear distribution of roles–perhaps this was the secret to Sylvan Esso’s happiness. Each of us could have our own, distinct jurisdiction.

7) When I made Tracy listen to them, he also liked their music. I don’t know if he yet knew the weight of saying their music was cool.