In 2013, we did it with a little help from our friends. Obviously album guest artists are nothing new. (This time of year we’re taken to remembering that even Bing Crosby and David Bowie cut a cross-generational duet.) But this year seemed particularly stacked with notable tunes formed through the meeting of minds. Take Disclosure’s debut full-length, Settle, which featured help from heavy-hitters AlunaGeorge, Jessie Ware and London Grammar among others. Of course, most albums weren’t quite so ripe with notable contributions—well that is, save for Daft Punk’s newest opus. (French robots do whatever they want.) Still, it seemed like by year’s end you could barely swing a microphone without smacking two bands in the process of hitting the studio together.
Laura Studarus dug through the stacks to unearth the best collaborations of the last 12 months. From folkie partners-in-song, to R&B mashups, to electronic soulmates, here are 10 of our favorite newly minted musical BFFs.
10. A$AP Rocky: “I Come Apart (feat. Florence Welch)”
Since our first introduction to Florence Welch (where she sang about her desire for a “kiss with a fist”) we knew that the flame-tressed Londoner could hold her own. On “I Come Apart,” a bonus track from A$AP Rocky’s debut full-length LONG.LIVE.A$AP, Welch manages to upstage the recumbent rapper. He may be pissed—but she’s possessed.
9. Solar Year: “Brotherhood (feat. Grimes)”
“Brotherhood” was premiered a pool party—which makes perfect sense. The Gregorian-style drones, echo-laced vocals and distorted synths of the Waverly track bleed together into a distorted, underwater ambience. So all-encompassing are the song’s liquid instrumentals, it might take multiple listens to realize that, yes, that ghostly pixie backing-vocal is none other than fellow Montreal luminary, Grimes.
8. Quadron: “Better Off (feat Kendrick Lamar)”
Kendrick Lamar is invited into Quadron’s boudoir on “Better Off.” Vocalist Coco O has always carried with her the elegance of a bygone era (it’s no accident that the singer appeared on the Great Gatsby soundtrack). Lamar’s acid-tongue flow doesn’t so much as disrupt the exercise in R&B elegance as reveal Avalanche’s hidden bite.
7. Active Child: “Silhouette (feat. Ellie Goulding)”
Pat Grossi’s (Active Child) past as a choirboy pretty much assures that his career will always be marked by the word “ethereal.” But few moments on his Rapor EP skim angelic quite like his duet with British songstress Ellie Goulding. Touched with twinkling, 1980s aesthetic and the pair’s airy vocals, “Silhouette” is a cinematic ode to the power of a broken heart.
6. Cass McCombs: “Brighter! (feat. Karen Black)”
74-year-old Karen Black died just before the release of Cass McComb’s seventh album, Big Wheel and Others. The Easy Rider actress’ passing makes her cameo on album centerpiece “Brighter!” all the more haunting. Against a slide guitar and percussion backdrop, she croons some of McCombs’ most cutting lyrics (“Brighter nitwit/ Brighter Cass/ Brighter dimwit/ Brighter my ass/ Brighter Sid Vicious/ Brighter nice guy/ Brighter housewife/ I hope you all die.”) with a Grand Ole Opry charm. R.I.P. Ms. Black; the world is a bit dimmer without you in it.
5. Danny Brown: “25 Bucks (feat. Purity Ring)”
The Purity Ring/Danny Brown cross-pollination wasn’t exactly a no-brainer. Sure, both groups traffic in larger-than-life statements. But for all the hip-hop descriptors that trailed Purity Ring’s debut album, Shrines, at the end of the day it was still an (excellent) electro-pop album. Enter Danny Brown’s flamboyant flow, which elevated the band’s single “Belispeak II” to the weird/wonderful place. On Danny Brown’s album Old, Purity Ring returns the favor, adding an otherworldly glow to Brown’s tale of life on the streets.
4. Polica: “Tiff (feat. Justin Vernon)”
After soft rock supergroup Gayngs, there was no doubt that Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and Poliça’s Channy Leaneagh could play nice. On “Tiff” the first single from Poliça’s haunting second album, Shulamith, Vernon and Leaneagh partner for a duet of the damned, their haunted sensuality billowing up through layers of autotune like the ghosts of relationships past.
3. Daft Punk: “Doin’ it Right (feat. Panda Bear)”
On Random Access Memories, an album stuffed with guest musicians (see: The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas, Giorgio Moroder, Nile Rodgers, et al) few managed to merge Daft Punk’s icy robotics with an organic joie de vivre quite like Animal Collective’s Panda Bear (a.k.a. Noah Lennox). The track begins with an autotuned voice promising, “Everybody will be dancing/And we’ll be feeling it right.” But it’s not until the addition of Lennox’s Beach Boy-lithe vocals that we truly start to believe it.
2. Thao & the Get Down Stay Down: “Kindness Be Conceived (feat. Joanna Newsom)”
Admittedly, folk poster girls Thao Nguyen and Joanna Newsom meeting “a Virginia Woolf-style farm paradise where women writers get their own cabins and write all day and meet in the evening for dinner”:http://www.thaoandthegetdownstaydown.com/story sounds a bit like a Portlandia sketch. But the ladies’ collaboration, “Kindness Be Conceived” is a straightforward voice and guitar duet, its inherit warmth undercutting lyrics of loneliness and isolation. If this is happening on a back porch somewhere, we just hope that we’re invited to the party.
1. Janelle Monáe: “Q.U.E.E.N. (feat. Erykah Badu)”
Let them eat cake? Oh please, that’s so 2012. On “Q.U.E.E.N.” Janelle Monáe (as futuristic robotic alter-ego Cindi Mayweather) declares “We eat wings and throw them bones on the ground.” It’s one in a series of arrows Monáe launches at the status quo, delivered with a twisted, R&B flare. Erykah Badu plays her wing woman, against strings and jazz horns, driving home the song’s concept with “Here comes the freedom song, too strong we moving on/ Baby this melody will show you another way.”