malleus&incus

A Plea For Duets

Posted in Indie, Singer-Songwiter by jurbanik on August 28, 2010

One thing I have noticed in the past couple years is the lack of duets between male and female songwriters. I can count on my hands how many memorable ones I’ve heard – there is the sickeningly cute and horribly overplayed ‘Lucky‘ by Colbie Caillat & Jason Mraz, the aptly name ‘Duet‘ featuring Rachael Yamagata and Ray LaMontagne (I still want to review his new album…), the perfectly harmonized ‘Paperweight‘ by Schuyler Fisk & Joshua Radin, the catchy but anti-romantic ‘You Don’t Know me‘  by Regina Spektor and Ben Folds, the heartfelt ‘I Don’t Feel it Anymore‘ by Priscilla Ahn & William Fitzsimmons, and the previously mentioned ‘Train Song‘ by Feist & Ben Gibbard.

Of course this doesn’t include the few artists (like She and Him or Arcade Fire) that have both male and female vocalists, but that is six whole collaborations. I’m not saying there aren’t other good ones out there, but those are the only ones that have been particularly memorable for me. I really can’t understand why: male-female duets seem one of the promising musical possibilities out there. They appeal to audiences that like male and female vocalists, the multiple main voices gives the potential for more narrative lyrics, the male and female tonal ranges are typically different and a good match can create great harmonies, they’ve got the potential for extreme romanticism… the list goes on and on. I can understand that it might be hard to find artists that interface well in terms of rhythmic, vocal, stylistic, and lyrical tendencies, but I would think more artists would at least try to capitalize on this potentially vast marketability. Certainly Hip Hop and R&B artists seem to have no problem executing collaborations… I can’t understand why it is so different for singer-songwriters.

In a vain attempt to ameliorate this shortage – no, I’m not delusional enough to think that malleus&incus has the influence to actually control who collaborates – I went through my library and tried to pick out a few artists that might would pair well together in a duet. Don’t yell at me for not picking the best combinations possible – I wanted to blog a few artists and blog this post at the same time, so not all of the my picks are ‘optimal.’ I’ll be honest, I wrestled with how to go about this post for a long time – how long should it be, should I pick the artists that fit best or that I want to cover, how should I analyze a hypothetical duet? I’d appreciate any feedback or any suggested pairings you might think of. Just as a heads up, the female song will be first in each combination, though I’m sure you can figure that out by hitting the play button.

A Fine Frenzy & Alexi Murdoch

Think of You// One Cell In the Sea

Slow Revolution// Towards the Sun

Quite possibly the most gorgeous redhead in the world and the man with the sexiest voice currently alive, Allison Sudol (A Fine Frenzy) and Alexi Murdoch could make a very powerful duet. Between Allison’s proclivity toward more morose lyrics and Alexi’s deep voice that is sad yet empathetic, we’ve got the magic combination for a breakup duet. Whether it be an epic with a storyline or merely a conversation, I wouldn’t expect a duet between these two to feature much in the way of harmonies. Allison seems to have a smile on no matter how dark her lyrics are, and I imagine this would be great for some sassier verses in response to Alexi’s fruitless attempts at comforting. A Fine Frenzy’s chime and bells filled instrumentals are bright and sparkly, so I feel like Alexi’s acoustic guitar work might be more appropriate. While certainly not the best pairing, I feel like the slight discord might lend to an even more convincing result.

Laura Marling & Fink

I Speak Because I Can// I Speak Because I Can

Nothing Is Ever Finished// Sort of Revolution

Fin Greenall and Laura Marling are two criminally underrated singer-songwriters. While Laura’s fan base has exploded lately, Fink still hasn’t gotten the recognition he deserves. In case you were wondering, no they have not performed together; I just had a little fun in photoshop (not that it is actually that convincing). However, both hail from the southern side of England, something that may be partly responsible for their voices fitting so well together. Fink’s is certainly more husky and masculine, but both have an impressive range and a little bit of up-swinging twang to their voice, have deeper voices, and tend to resolve lines on a low note. Interestingly enough, this style seems to have grown on Laura – in songs like the older New Romantic, she has a more prototypical British female vocal style. The change is a good thing in my opinion. Honestly, the first riff in ‘I Speak Because I Can’ sounds exactly like a Fink song might. As far as the actual (well, hypothetical) duet goes, I would imagine that these two could sing about just about anything as long as they harmonize, and I would like it. Truth be told, Laura’s album does feature some male-female harmonization, but the male vocalists are unnamed and seem to act more as backup singers than a full-fledged duet. As far as instrumentation, I can see some somewhat complex guitar interplay and the mellowed out tempo typical of Fink’s songs going down. I honestly think if these two collaborated, they could have a breakout hit that might push both into the limelight.

Charlotte Gainsbourg and Oren Lavie

In The End// IRM

A Dream Within A Dream// The Opposite Side of the Sea

Honestly, these two are the reason for writing this post. I happened to have iTunes on shuffle only to find an Oren Lavie song followed by a Charlotte Gainsbourg song. It felt like fate had struck. I don’t doubt that a few of you recognize the Gainsbourg name – Charlotte is indeed the anglo-french daughter of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, Serge being arguably one of the most influential popular musicians and Jane being nearly equally as influential in various respects (wiki them if you want to know more). The beautiful Charlotte has made a name for herself in acting and as a musician, with her most recent “IRM” calling Beck its producer. On the other hand, Oren Lavie is an Israeli who is arguably better known for his directing than his music. His play Sticks and Wheels and production thereof received prizes at the Israeli Acco festival, and his music video for ‘Her Morning Elegance‘ received a Grammy nomination in 2009. More important than their relative backgrounds, though, is how well the two could fit together. IRM makes it apparent that Charlotte is nearly as versatile as her father, especially when assisted in production by Beck. ‘In the End’ demonstrates a style that would fit in perfectly with Oren’s style – slow-paced, orchestrated like a film, full of gentle vocal melodies followed by a melodic bass line, and dream-like vocal qualities. If Charlotte tried to fit Oren’s styling, I feel like things would just click. Just give the songs a listen and you’ll know what I mean – to attempt to explain the compatibility of the two styles exceeds my limits of my descriptive ability. Honestly, they should make an entire album together. Please.

P.S. ‘A Dream Within A Dream’ absolutely should be in the Inception soundtrack, it would have worked perfectly for any number of slow motion scenes or scenes in limbo. I wish I had the video editing skills to make a fan music video using clips from the film…if anyone does, you know what to do.

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4 Responses

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  1. dc3 said, on August 28, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    you forget the best duet, Rosie Thomas and Sufjan Stevens

    • jurbanik said, on August 31, 2010 at 6:04 am

      Dude, I had completelyyyyy forgotten about this track. I went on a binge and listened through this whole album for the hell of it. Thanks for the reminder man

  2. Madison DuPree said, on August 29, 2010 at 12:08 am

    ^DC3 I agree… that may be my favorite duett in the last few years.

    I’d add Connor O’Burst and Gillian Welch singing Lua to your list (even though it was originally just a bright eyes song that they re recorded together for the Dark Was The Night compilation). But would by no means list it as my favorite.

    And Gainsbourg/Lavie duo would be INCREDIBLE… there should be a website to go and sign petitions concerning music/musicians I think the voice of the people should be heard. 🙂

    • jurbanik said, on August 31, 2010 at 6:03 am

      *Conor Oberst. You know, I have that track and I like it, but I totally forgot about it while writing this post. As far as the petitions site… I wish someone would make that happen. I already have my hands full with this blog.


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