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.

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.