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Giving Up The Day Job: Quietus Writers' Top 40 Side Projects
The Quietus , June 9th, 2020 08:48

Von Südenfed over The Fall? Grinderman over The Bad Seeds? It can only be the latest tQ Writers' Top 40, on the side projects we like even more than their parent bands

Haley Fohr of Circut Des Yeux as Jackie Lynn

Side projects and solo jaunts are undertaken for all sorts of reasons: for an artist to cleanse their palate after their 'main project' begins to drag, to resolve an ego dispute, to free oneself from the baggage of an established aesthetic, to cut loose less talented collaborators, to seek new collaborators entirely, or simply just to fuck with people. In the 40 examples below, you'll find examples of each.

For this feature, we asked tQ's network of writers not just to pick a side project they love, but one that for one reason or another they love even more than the parent band or project from whence they came, and argue their case. You can find their picks below.
Patrick Clarke

Jackie Lynn vs. Circuit Des Yeux

Haley Fohr has put her shape-shifting talents to sublime use as Circuit Des Yeux. She unleashes her unique voice with an undeniable power that takes on otherworldly qualities. But for as bold and adventurous as the project is, it isn't always accessible. Her outlaw alter ego Jackie Lynn, however, shows a brightness and an easier appeal of her work. Circuit Des Yeux releases music videos for tracks from her albums, but Jackie Lynn has legit singles.

What started as a one-off project is evolving into Fohr's channel for her poppy side in neatly contained songs. The pieces fit together into familiar structures, aided by textural, rhythm-heavy electronics from backing band Bitchin' Bajas (themselves the side project of Cooper Crain of Cave), with her voice suiting each individual song rather than dominating it. But at the heart of it, Jackie Lynn is still a highly conceptual project. It does Fohr no disservice to start with Jackie Lynn and work backwards to Circuit Des Yeux.
Amanda Farah

Atlas Sound vs. Deerhunter

Bradford Cox has always been a fascinating character – personally and musically. As the leader of Deerhunter he has fearlessly led them down several caustic shoegaze and garage-rock routes, but when he goes solo as Atlas Sound he has even more freedom to roam. With his first album, Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Not Feel, he embarked on a sensory and hallucinatory experience. Second album Logos saw him teaming with Panda Bear and Laetitia Sadier to get the closest he's ever been to pop, while third album Parallax saw him enter full-on songwriter mode – albeit with a sci-fi twist.

Between all these, Atlas Sound dropped a series of demo tapes, Bedroom Databank Vol. 1-4, which gave us even more insight into his unique creative process – and are fascinating documents. While Atlas Sound has been dormant for quite a few years now, Cox's devoted flock will always hold out for something new from him, as we know he's always innovating and creating.
Rob Hakimian

Plastic Ono Band vs. The Beatles

The Plastic Ono Band were always a group of two halves: one of them sitting comfortably amongst the greatest composers of the 20th century, while the other used to play guitar in some boy band. I'll admit now that I've never listened to a Plastic Ono Band album all the way through, but I would always look out for the singles in charity shops. The 7" format made it easy to ignore execrable A-sides like 'Mother' and 'Instant Karma' and just listen to the wild, sublime, electrifying B-sides: tracks like 'Why', a terrifying primal scream of a song, the kind of free rock freak out that Primal Scream themselves could only dream of; 'Who Has Seen The Wind', a creepy, Morricone-esque lullaby that wouldn't sound out of place in a black-gloved, blood-stained giallo picture; 'Open Your Box', a chewed up funk fever dream that was banned on Radio 1 for the frank sexuality of its lyrics.

On tracks like these, a door was cracked open to an alternative 1970s; one less dour and self-serious, truer to the disinhibiting promise of Fluxus and psychedelia. That gauntlet would later be picked up by the likes of Los Angeles Free Music Society and The Residents. But in the opening years of the decade, the future was plastic.
Robert Barry

Revolting Cocks vs. Ministry

There's something about the intersection of heavy metal and new technology that speeds up the ageing process. It's the sonic equivalent of never wearing sunblock, and often leaves the raw material prematurely blotched, wrinkled and peppered with liver spots. There are plenty of instances where heavy metal has formed a vanguard of modernism but these instances nearly always spring from bands who can be termed 'traditional' in terms of line-up and instrumentation such as Napalm Death, Earth and Mayhem. Even at its most self-consciously and awe-inspiringly avant-garde, metal's innovations tend to focus on live performance and analogue recording processes rather than digital manipulation of sound files. Sunn O))), for example, have had several successful collaborations with 'electronic' musicians but these tend to occur within the band's sonic realm and on their terms.

At one point, in the late 1980s, it seemed like Ministry were going to successfully marry the sampler and the guitar but something started going wrong between the release of The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste in 1989 and ΚΕΦΑΛΗΞΘ in 1992. It's not like the band couldn't cut it live – the evidence is all over 1990's superb In Case You Didn't Feel Like Showing Up – but they never really made a studio album for the ages.

This is possibly due to the fact that Ministry began life as a new romantic synth pop duo and, even though it pains me to say it, it often seems that heavy metal is one genre where authenticity is as important as hidebound genre partisans say it is. Either way, for a band who have been in existence for four decades, there are many more bad or average Ministry songs than there are outstanding ones, as metal just can't be fixed in the mix.

None of this should be taken as a slight against Al Jourgensen though who, between the mid-'80s and early '90s, spurred on by dynamic innovations in techno, EBM, dub, acid house and new beat, produced some of the best leftfield dance music of the late 20th century, in the form of myriad collaborations and side-projects. Even though the competition is stiff from Pailhead, LARD, 1000 Homo DJs, PTP and Acid Horse, the apex of these ventures was Revolting Cocks. Many never got beyond the ribald moniker, the penchant for ironic cover versions and the lurid stage shows, which is their own look-out, as Big Sexy Land (and to a slightly lesser extent Beers, Steers And Queers) features music that sits in splendid isolation, beyond reproach.

Tracks such as 'No Devotion', 'T.V. Mind' and 'We Shall Cleanse The World', still have the power of a cattle prod and haven't aged in the same way that Ministry's music has. But this shouldn't be surprising as Jourgensen clearly understood the template for industrial dance, in its simplest form, involved the manipulation of clearly defined minimal ingredients: a tough beat, a prominent bassline, vocals considered in percussive terms and a sparing, often atonal top line.

In terms of blueprint, RevCo were (initially) closer to The J.B.s than they were to Ministry. Industrial metal was different however. The digital act of adding layer after layer of processed guitar in the vain hope of tracks accruing heaviness never really worked to an entirely satisfactory degree. The spiritual weight of heavy metal comes almost totally from the construction of riffs, not their post-production manipulation.
John Doran

Grim Tower vs. Black Mountain

Blood Meridian, Lightning Dust, Sinoia Caves, Pink Mountaintops: the side projects instigated by members or former members of Black Mountain are as numerous as they are diverse. In 2013, frontman Stephen McBean released the one and only Grim Tower album, Anarchic Breezes, a collaboration with the colourful psychedelic talent that is Imaad Wasif.

Grim Tower is an exercise in mystical drone-folk, with few of the bombastic flourishes that define McBean's 'mother' band. By not prioritising volume or a great deal of complexity, McBean allows his songwriting ability to bloom in partnership with an artist, Wasif, whose career is defined by a softer, Eastern-influenced acoustic bent. The lyrics on this album are, quite predictably, pretty silly – but that only adds to the charm. The record's title track – an instrumental, mercifully – is a good place to start.
Barnaby Smith

Grinderman vs. The Bad Seeds

While Nick Cave is now a genuine megastar, simultaneously selling out arenas and enjoying the best reviews of his career after a stunning, heart-wrenching trilogy of LPs, it's easy to forget that before Grinderman his music was at serious risk of collapsing under its own weight. Although it contained plenty of brilliant songs, 2004's Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus was bloated, while its predecessor Nocturama was an uncharacteristically limp misfire.

By shedding the Bad Seeds, (albeit only in name given Grinderman's membership of long-term collaborators), and charging headfirst into baggage-free sleazy garage rock, 2007's self-titled debut shed that bloatedness for good. Just look at the Bad Seeds record that followed, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!, the most deliriously fun album they'd put out in quite some time. After the rawness and personal trauma that was purged on his most recent record Ghosteen, it's notable that there are rumblings of Grinderman 3 possibly coming soon.
Patrick Clarke

Edgar Froese and Peter Baumann vs. Tangerine Dream

Kosmische pioneers Tangerine Dream yielded not one but two solo albums that I would choose over the main group's catalogue. Released in 1975 by Tangerine Dream founder Froese, Epsilon In Malaysia Pale consists of two side-long tracks; Debussy-esque fantasias created using just Mellotron and synth. It's one of those rare occasions in '70s progressive music where orchestral composition isn't just mimicked. Instead, it's transformed and turned into something that's uncannily beautiful. It's not hard to hear why Epsilon was one of Bowie's favourite records during the making of Low.

Released the following year by the mercurial Baumann, Romance 76 both distils TD's essence and pushes it further out. Side one is melodic electronica perfected, as playful and precise as Kraftwerk, but somehow more elemental, particularly on the dramatic sturm und drang of 'Phase By Phase'. The second side is something else, an avant classical/choral suite recorded with the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, Baumann weaving disquieting synthetic textures and nervy Mellotron among the strings and voices to often terrifying effect. Easy to overlook, these albums are two of the finest to emerge from the Krautrock period, and essential listening for students of electronic music.
Joe Banks

Nai Palm vs. Hiatus Kaiyote

Needle Paw sounds like a blueprint of Naomi "Nai Palm" Saalfield's intuition. Following on from Melbourne-based future soul quartet Hiatus Kaiyote's sophomore album, Choose Your Weapon, Needle Paw comprises original music, thoughtful covers, and reimagined Hiatus Kaiyote staples. The 13-track debut solo album celebrates Palm as an interpreter of great sound — it's like musical codeswitching.

Paying homage to musical traditions indigenous to Australia, Jason Guwanbal Gurruwiwi bookends the album with the interludes 'Wititj (Lightning Snake)', parts one and two. In the interim, Palm engages in a study of guitar and voice. The instrumentation, though monochromatic, lacks no depth. The wistful undulation of a chorus of voices (familiar to die hard Hiatus Kaiyote fans) elevates the last minute of 'Crossfire / So Into You'. 'Molasses' and 'Borderline With My Atoms', which originally appeared on Choose Your Weapon, stand tall on their intricate melodic skeletons, Palm's agile soprano running circles around her own melody. It's through Palm's reinterpretation of her own music we come to better understand the Hiatus Kaiyote originals.

Palm's take on Jimi Hendrix's 'Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)' comes off like she's letting us in on a closely-guarded secret. The penultimate title and standout track, 'Homebody', lays us down gently. Needle Paw is both Palm's best work, and a lesson in diligence.
Olamiju Fajemisin

DRINKS vs. Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley

Bands have side projects and political parties have outriders, popping up on Sky News to float an idea that the minister couldn't possibly suggest, and then look! A year later it's party policy! DRINKS is the side project of Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley. I've never really got on with Presley's own work – too pastiche, too '60s, too LA – but collaborations generally bring out the best in him. Presley had an in-joke with one former collaborator, Mark E Smith, where Smith would refer to the band only as SNACKS. A lot of the lyrics in DRINKS, in fact, feel like in-jokes – cryptic bollocks filed alongside discordant guitar lines and found-noises collaged together Dada-like. It begins to work. Squares begin fitting perfectly inside circles.

The high Beefheartian weirdness of DRINKS' 2015 album seemed to lay the ideological groundwork for Le Bon's excellent 2016 record Crab Day, and DRINKS' 2018 record Hippo Lite felt like the logical extension of many of those ideas. Side projects can have a curious reverse effect too. Le Bon's 2019 album Reward was nothing like DRINKS, but in its magnetic austerity it was also her masterpiece. Like a lot of good surrealism, it's only on contact with then dormant, unforeseeable future events that a meaning becomes revealed. "It's real outside your house," repeats Le Bon on one track, "it's real outside. It's real outside."
Fergal Kinney

Gorillaz vs. Blur

There's a streak of genius in creating a cartoon to escape a caricature, which is more or less how Damon Albarn slipped the laddish tabloid noose threatening his artistic existence in the late 1990s. By jettisoning the cult of personality that had arisen around Britpop and choosing to work instead with Jamie Hewlett, Albarn created a second iconic band that would live for just as long, making something freer, more inclusive and more universal than Blur could ever have hoped to create.
Kiran Acharya

Fripp & Eno vs. King Crimson and Brian Eno

To listen to (No Pussyfooting), the debut collaboration between King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp and the then newly-solo Brian Eno is to drop in on what sounds like a test run for David Bowie's Heroes. Or, rather, you're pretty certain that Bowie's magpie eyes would've lit up when he heard it, as well as its follow-up, 1975's Evening Star. Less fussy than King Crimson and more succinct than Eno's later excursions, this really is a collaboration that's greater than the sum of its parts.
Julian Marszalek

Insecure Men vs. Fat White Family

Off all that sprawl of side-projects, solo ventures, splinter groups, collaborations and breakaway projects that have surrounded Fat White Family's fractious career, only one truly matches the main band, and that is Saul Adamczewski's Insecure Men, formed with Ben Romans-Hopcraft and produced by Sean Lennon. Their self-titled album draws on paedophilia, premature death and racist imperialism to make beautiful pop music inflected with the queasy unease of 1970s light entertainment, with Gary Glitter, Gerry Adams and Cliff Richard floating around its margins. It is transgressive, provocative, and ranks as Adamczewski's defining masterpiece to date.
Patrick Clarke

Captain Lockheed And The Starfighters vs. Hawkwind

By 1974, Hawkwind were moving away from the brain-melting deep space psychedelia of their earlier albums and experimenting with crazy new ideas such as funk, country rock and prog. Meanwhile, space age poet Robert Calvert had jumped ship the year before to concentrate on writing and recording what must be one of rock's strangest, but also best, concept albums, Captain Lockheed And The Starfighters.

Inspired by the tragic tale of the Luftwaffe's purchase of dangerously modified American fighter jets, which resulted in the deaths of over 100 pilots, Calvert recruited his former bandmates to make an album of proto-punk garage rock interspersed with Monty Python-esque skits voiced by the Bonzo's Vivian Stanshall, Traffic's Jim Capaldi and Calvert himself. And while it's certainly a product of its time, with comically accented German stereotypes galore, it's also rather wonderful and often very funny.

Pounding monomanic headbangers such as 'The Aerospaceage Inferno', 'The Right Stuff' and 'Ejection' have more than a hint of the Motor City about them, particularly the latter track, and all would eventually find their way into Hawkwind's live set. For those fans unsure of the mothership's new direction, Captain Lockheed offered plenty of two chord riffs and heavy vibes.
Joe Banks

Brandon Flowers vs. The Killers

Alas, no sooner had Brandon Flowers and his less interesting bandmates unleashed their definitive new wave pastiche 'Mr. Brightside' than they ripped up the script and started over. Springsteen Americana was the dominant influence on second album Sam's Town; ever since, they've wandered the pop desert forlornly seeking inspiration. And yet, away from The Killers, Flowers has always known what he's about, as demonstrated by two wonderfully glossy solo LPs.

'Crossfire', from 2010's Flamingo, was the best song he's ever written that doesn't feature the words 'Brightside' and 'Mr.' in the title. And 2015's The Desired Effect was the yacht-rock / post-punk mash-up it was always his destiny to make. Even the title sounds like an abandoned John Hughes screenplay. He is back to the day job this summer with a new Killers record that – if the band's most recent albums are any guide – is destined to be overblown and undercooked. The unavoidable truth may be that it is away from The Killers that Flowers is destined to blossom.
Ed Power

Junip vs. José González

José González' solo work is undeniably engrossing, his guitar work often intensely driven by a percussive quality reflected in his use of melodic and lyrical repetition. But even he sometimes acknowledges his limitations: in recent years, shows with PC Nackt's String Theory orchestra have proved irresistible to the Argentinian Swede. Fortunately, Junip, the band he formed in 1998 with childhood friends Elias Araya and Tobias Winterkorn, allows him to enlarge upon his motorik instincts.

Their output's been sporadic: two EPs and two LPs in fifteen years, the last, Junip, released in 2013. But it's on these that, to all the qualities that make González so bewitching, he now adds a psychedelic, narcotic intent. The Black Refuge EP's 'Turn To The Assassin' begins with a simple, circular acoustic guitar riff but is soon warmed by a blanket of organ; the Rope & Summit EP's title track – also included on 2010's Fields album – is founded on one of González' most featherweight chord patterns, then builds up a head of muffled steam like Can on a Sunday morning; and 'Tide', the final track from Junip, is a gentle slice of hazy blue-eyed soul given a space-age makeover. They're bigger and, quite possibly, better.
Wyndham Wallace

Vermapyre vs. Integrity

Cleveland hardcore band Integrity all but invented metalcore when it formed in 1988, bringing together blasts of metallic guitar leads and solos with hardcore speed and rhythm, while influencing bands like Converge and Hatebreed in the process. Integrity have dropped a couple of great records, particularly 1995's Systems Overload, but they are probably more celebrated for their visual iconography and the idiosyncratic artistry of frontman and sole constant member Dwid Hellion.

Integrity eventually became a springboard for Hellion's cryptic poetry and fascinatingly "evil" visual style. As Hellion has increasingly incorporated noise and electronics into the Integrity sound, his fascinations have led him to new projects. One such project is Vermapyre, which utilises Hellion's enthusiasm for horror and noise to create a sound that makes the Texas Chainsaw Massacre OST sound like nursery rhymes. Hellion employs self-built guitars in the project, and the music reveals a sophistication and vision that makes clear why Integrity and Hellion are so enduringly fascinating in comparison with most bands in their aesthetically limited sub-genre.
Adam Lehrer

Captain Murphy vs. Flying Lotus

Back in 2012, the rapper Captain Murphy emerged as a washed-out but dextrous emcee who wanted to keep his identity secret. After leaving a trail of breadcrumbs through feature appearances and single drops, the mixtape Duality was dropped and Murphy was revealed to be the beatmaker extraordinaire Flying Lotus. Why had he felt the need to keep his identity secret? Sure, there is the history of super heroes' secret identities to which Steven Ellison was paying tribute, but it's also possible that his work as Flying Lotus is just so intricate and unique that nobody would believe he could actually rap too – but Duality proves that he can string together bars with character and fluidity.

Whereas his work as Flying Lotus is hyperactive and unpredicatble, Captain Murphy is a more laid back, goofy and friendly affair, replete with simple beats and glowing samples. Out of any work that Ellison has made under any alias, Duality is the one you're most likely to put on when hanging out with friends, as it features plenty of interesting production, but not the kind that demands 100% focus throughout. Murphy's beats float like a weed haze, and his raps are suited to this environment, as his pitch-shifted voice shuffles through bars about wanting to get high, have sex and just laze around watching crazy movies. It's a shame that Captain Murphy has gone into hiding since 2012, but perhaps the world's current retreat into isolation is the perfect time for him to emerge once more.
Rob Hakimian

Hayley Williams vs. Paramore

Hayley Williams is now a woman in her thirties, and though Paramore were brilliantly resonant for teenagers when they were teenagers themselves, they have struggled to mature beyond being just that. Why should she not have something for herself now? Talk freely about sex, divorce, loneliness? Say 'fuck'? The very title of Petals For Armor clings to more complex ideas of femininity that I think surpasses Paramore, and for me that is more alluring than Paramore ever were.

Personal, painful, melancholy and sensual, Petals For Armor Williams needed space to breathe. Despite the fact that throughout her career she constantly vowed that she would never go it alone, I think this was her wisest decision and it has produced her most touching, delicate and relatable work. The project manages to achieve what Paramore never could. She also has a hair dye company called Good Dye Young which is arguably better than Paramore too.
Sarah Cohen

Hemlock Ernst vs. Future Islands

On the surface, it's kind of hard to believe that Samuel T. Herring, the singer of Baltimore synth-pop favourites Future Islands, has a side hustle as a rapper called Hemlock Ernst. It's so preposterous to think about that you might not even give him a chance, but just a glance at the people he's worked with – Madlib, Open Mike Eagle, and milo to name a few – should do enough to convince you of his credibility. Then just put on one of his gloom-filled cuts from last year's Kenny Segal collaboration Back At The House, or the swaggering bars on the Madlib team-up Trouble Knows Me, and you'll hear an emcee with poise, rhythm and grit. All we need now is to hear Hemlock Ernst feature on a Future Islands track, and everyone will be happy.
Rob Hakimian

Tom Tom Club vs. Talking Heads

When Tina Weymouth sings, "What you gonna do when you get out of jail?/I'm gonna have some fun" at the top of the funky ray of sunshine that is Tom Tom Club's 'Genius Of Love', it's not difficult to think of her referring to the unpleasant business of who got credited with what when recording Talking Heads' magnificent fourth album, Remain In Light.

Moving away from the cerebral compositional and recording process of the day job, Talking Heads' rhythm section of Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz initially decamped to Compass Point studios in Nassau to record the single 'Wordy Rappinghood', which was swiftly followed by 'Genius Of Love' and 'Lorelei'. The rest of the eponymous debut album was then finished after touring Remain In Light, and the instinctive and joyful results still tower over the rest of Talking Heads' back catalogue. After all, who's going to disagree with Tina Weymouth when she asks, "Who needs to think when your feet just go?"
Julian Marszalek

Cats Eyes vs. The Horrors

There's always been a certain campness to Faris Badwan. It was all over The Horrors' barmy ubergoth first LP, but when they made that oft-acclaimed leap into glorious psychedelia with Primary Colours it got lost among the lushness. Fortunately, his collaboration with Canadian soprano Rachel Zeffira has it in spades. But that’s not all that makes Cat’s Eyes such a brilliant band, it's Zeffira and Badwan's ability to distil the essence of Phil Spector and Nancy and Lee, ramping up and subverting that music's weird, sinister sugariness to twisted, Lynchian proportions. They're wonky, off-kilter and bizarre where The Horrors' music is now shimmering and refined, but they have an atmosphere that Badwan's 'main' band could never hope to capture.
Patrick Clarke

Fever Ray vs. The Knife

There’s no denying that The Knife are one of the most important musical acts of the 21st century, but boy do they get heavy. I mean, their last album was 97 minutes of sonic experimentation and lyrics about structuralism. Sure, Karin Dreijer's first Fever Ray album was a paranoid examination of life as a new mother, but it was approachable in its song structures and an intoxicatingly honest foray into her psychology. Then, for her second Fever Ray album, 2017's Plunge, Dreijer cut loose, telling us all about being a newly single 40-year-old and wanting to get out and fuck. Sure, there are still plenty of pointed political lyrics, but tucked between brightly trilling synths and confessions about wanting to run her fingers up pussies, they are a lot easier to digest. It seems that when her brother Olof isn't around, Karin feels more like she can let her hair down and express her quotidian concerns – and that's the kind of person we like to party with.
Rob Hakimian

Von Südenfed vs. The Fall

Although I am firmly of the opinion that anyone who reiterates the Fall cliché quote, 'If it's me and yer granny on bongos, it's the Fall', ought to have to do 1000 lines about laziness, it is for once interesting in reference to considering Von Südenfed, Mark E Smith's short-lived but magnificent collaboration with Mouse On Mars. Their 2007 album Tromatic Reflexxions was a highlight of the last 20 years of Mark E Smith's life – and that even takes into account the fact that this was, despite what the auld bores in the League Of Bald Headed Men will tell you, a peak period from the group. Yet Von Sudenfed arguably offers something that The Fall didn't quite manage in that phase of operation – a record that had the sonic difference to really push Smith.

For all the talk of The Fall as dictatorship, he was always at his best when he had musicians to come up against, rather than ride on top of – arguably why the very last Fall albums were largely disappointing. Shorn of the rockabilly tendencies that were never the finest Fall element, the gritty electronics and sharp lyrical wit of 'Fledermaus Can't Get It' and 'Flooded' are right up there with anything on The Unutterable, AKA a dead cert top five Fall LP. Which all really raises the most salient point here – by Smith's own logic in that overused quote, Von Südenfed isn't actually a side project eclipsing the main work at all, but a continuation and part of the canon in all but name.
Luke Turner

Harmonia vs. Neu! and Cluster

Musical amalgamations rarely come as beautifully realised as Harmonia. Indeed, to say that Harmonia is the go-to listen over Neu! or Cluster isn't a slight, but an affirmation of two vital and colossal musical talents coming together to blend their idiosyncracies – Michael Rother's singing guitar lines and the cosmic explorations of Cluster's Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius – and in the process create some of the most original and influential music ever captured for posterity.

For this writer, second album Deluxe edges it over their debut Musik Von Harmonia thanks to a greater integration of the principle players, most notably on tracks 'Deluxe (Immer Weider)' and 'Monza (Rauf Und Runter)'. David Bowie was so enamoured of the latter track that he later repurposed it as 'Red Sails' for Lodger. It's little surprise that Brian Eno was waiting in the wings, but that’s another story for another time.
Julian Marszalek

Nailbomb vs. Fudge Tunnel

It's a stretch to say that Nailbomb are actually superior to Max Cavalera's Sepultura or Alex Newport's Fudge Tunnel, but when they joined forces to make the studio album Point Blank they created an explosive in-point of discovery leading directly towards industrial, experimental and metal's avant-garde. With pure roaring resistance, attacks on corporate religion, and the rifle-crack snare of 'Cockroaches', Nailbomb are the perfect example of the unfettered and unrepeatable one-and-done.
Kiran Acharya

Fuzz vs. Ty Segall

Ty Segall puts out multiple releases annually under his own name, and, for someone churning out content so regularly, they have a surprisingly high level of consistency. However, when it comes his turn to sit behind the drumkit in Fuzz, and let his usual drummer Charler Moothart take the lead guitar, things get wild. The project was originally started by Moothart as an exercise in 'can I write a hard rock song?', and when it was discovered that yes, YES, he can write a hard rock song – dozens of them in fact – he got Segall in to drum and they started piling on the garage rock mayhem, creating the towering self-titled record.

Second album II saw them adding new bassist Chad Ubovich and collaborating more as equal writers in a band, which only added more structure to the screaming, pounding, and riffing brilliance. Sure, Segall writes plenty of great rock songs under his own name, but if you want your face truly melted then you want to listen to Fuzz, with Moothart searing the six-string trail into sonic destruction.
Rob Hakimian

Dukes Of Stratosphear vs. XTC

Credited to Sir John Johns, Lord Cornelius Plum, The Red Curtain and E.I.E.I. Owen, The Dukes Of Stratosphear’s debut 25 O’Clock was a six-track masterpiece of late 1960s psychedelia, its title track nodding to The Electric Prunes' 'I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)', and 'What In The World' seeking inspiration in The Beatles' 'Tomorrow Never Knows'. Only it was made by the members of XTC, recorded after frontman and main songwriter Andy Partridge, as well as engineer John Leckie, were removed from duties on Mary Margaret O'Hara's Miss America for not being devout enough, then launched on April Fool's Day, 1985.

That it twice outsold 1984's The Big Express, XTC's seventh album, only became significant when the band's true identity was revealed, but perhaps it wasn't surprising. While XTC had already bequeathed a handful of classic singles – most notably 'Making Plans For Nigel' and 'Senses Working Overtime' – none sounded so much fun as, for instance, the Mellotron-dosed 'Strawberry Fields' pastiche 'The Mole From The Ministry'. 1987's Psonic Psunspot couldn't quite maintain the quality, and the band apparently died afterwards in a "horrible sherbet accident," but even Partridge referred to 25 O'Clock as the "most fun we ever had in the studio."
Wyndham Wallace

Puscifer vs. Tool

Passionate vinter and fancy-dress enthusiast Maynard James Keenan has many hobbies. Sometimes he even makes music. Though he's known chiefly as the frontman of nerd-metal titans Tool, his talents are better exercised in side project Puscifer.

Since outgrowing debut album "V" Is For Vagina, Puscifer have strode into more progressive territories, trading in electro, industrial, and sun-baked ballads. The music is more accessible than that of Keenan's main act but don't let that fool you. Puscifer songs unfold with all the dynamics, dexterity and polyrhythmic complexities as those of the proto-edgelords, only without the self-importance. Puscifer albums run at a breezy 50 minutes and are packed with memorable moments, whereas Tool's 80-minute suites are bloated by pointless interludes, so turgid that they threaten to crawl up their own schism.

From the inaugural salvo of Puscifer's good-ol'-boy-baiting Country Boner it was clear that the band would be a better vehicle for Keenan's snot-nosed humour than Tool, in which his salacious song titles and petty ripostes to critics have often felt at odds with the group's galaxy-brain musicianship. Puscifer is an especially good fit for humour given that the band began as a joke in US sketch comedy Mr. Show. What's no punchline, though, is that Puscifer are Keenan's headline act.
Sean McGeady

Lil Wayne vs. The Hot Boys

It’s hard to believe now, but when the original Young Money millionaire, Lil Wayne, started out in the business he wasn't even the main act. Weezy was, instead, part of a teenage crew assembled by his mentor, Baby (AKA rapper Birdman), who had been guiding him since he was just a precociously talented 13-year-old. The Hot Boys were a teenage rap group envisaged by Baby and his brother Slim, co-founders of Cash Money Records and shot-callers in Southern hip hop, circa 1997.

Combining older, tested talents like BG and Juvenile, who both had successful albums behind them – Chopper City and Solja Rags respectively – it was Wayne and Turk, the new boys, who were a risk. But 1997's Mannie Fresh-produced Get It How You Live! shifted 400,000 copies, earning the indie label a $30 million deal from Universal. But by the early 2000s, most of Baby's boys had jumped ship citing financial concerns, leaving only Weezy on deck. As it turned out, the permanently nasal genius with the ultra-dextrous, drank-soaked drawl didn't need the help, as he proved by taking over hip hop to such a degree that even his Young Money Entertainment protégés, amongst them Nicki Minaj and Drake, are superstars now.
Manu Ekanayake

David Thomas and Two Pale Boys vs. Pere Ubu

Best known as the wild eyed Pere Ubu frontman, David Thomas' solo work deserves a passionate mention in its own right. On Surf's Up, David Thomas and Two Pale Boys serve up a smattering of avant-folk, coloured by touches of electronic pulses and 'Rain Dogs' era Tom Waits contortions. Arriving in 2001, a while after his main band had released any kind of stone wall classics, Surf's Up is a curious addition, wherein the Ubu man abandons his trademark bleating for a kind of sea shanty ramble.

'Man in the Dark' sees a somber Thomas worrying to the tune of farting horns, whilst the title track drones as Thomas' whines reach emotionally affecting crescendos. The high point though, comes on 'River', where all the component parts are at their most potent; Thomas growls, guitar scratches echo, and combustible horns boom out across the arid soundscapes.
Cal Cashin

The 6ths vs. The Magnetic Fields

The Magnetic Fields were not quite the indie-pop institution they have since become when Stephen Merritt decided he should be immortalised with a tribute album. With nobody else volunteering for the job he founded a side-project, The 6ths, and did it himself. A who's who of alternative scene vocalists were tapped, Helium's Mary Timony, Yo La Tengo's Georgia Hubley and TeenBeat Records founder Mark Robinson among them. Their task: to inject starlight and shimmer into an all-new suite of mordantly wry Merritt ditties.

Revisiting The 6ths' 1995 debut, Wasps' Nest , and its 2000 follow-up Hyacinths and Thistles, what's striking is the sincerity brimming up through the pores. As an ABBA fan, Merritt had a keen appreciation of pop's golden rule, which mandates the zing of the melody must be in direct contrast to the tragedy of the lyrics. He never got that balance more right than with The 6ths, whose songs swoon and sob, even as his wordplay trembles with the grotesque twinkle of an Edward Gorey illustration. "Who do you love when I'm out of town?" wonders the Tall Dwarfs' Chris Knox on 'When I'm Out of Town'. "The butcher, the baker/The thin undertaker who makes not a sound." It's witty, terrifying and ferociously sublime.
Ed Power

The Amazing vs. Dungen

While some musicians might embark upon a side project to give an outlet to their more experimental or leftfield proclivities, Dungen guitarist Reine Fiske in some ways did the opposite: he launched The Amazing to 'go straight'. Few listeners will regard The Amazing as being as adventurous or as strange as Dungen, with their 1970s influences, gentle chord progressions and romantic lyrics (sung in English, in contrast to Dungen often singing in Swedish). Yet there is a bucolic magic to The Amazing that is utterly intoxicating, largely born of the songwriting talent of singer Christopher Gunrup.

With this side-project, Fiske re-calibrates his talents to produce guitar lines that are, for him, quite conservative and deceptively simple – an idea of The Amazing's lineage and stylistic tendencies can be found with 2009's 'Kirwan Song', a tribute to Danny Kirwan, the one-time guitarist in Fleetwood Mac. The Amazing are a calmer, more melodic, less abrasive, less formidable alternative to Dungen.
Barnaby Smith

Graham Coxon vs. Blur

Even at their most adventurous, Blur never abandoned their singer's cloying desire to be adored. After renouncing Britpop and going a bit scuzzy, their output remained peppered with bouncy indie-disco numbers and glistening ballads for your mum. The solo work of slightly bonkers guitarist Graham Coxon was less concerned with such matters. Slyly informed by black metal, much of the material from Coxon's first two solo albums was both decidedly lo-fi and often incredibly heavy. "I wish the music would play by itself," he sighed on 1998's The Sky Is Too High, referring to his day job, before unleashing a cathartic blast of jumbo-jet noise. 2000's The Golden D was snottier still; essentially a hardcore punk album complete with two Mission Of Burma covers and a tribute to Coxon's favourite skateboarder.

Other albums were folkier, in a Bert Jansch vein. They grew poppier once he'd left Blur, but a man's gotta eat. That spontaneous and natural feel remained, while his imperfect vocals kept everything nicely fragile. Noel Gallagher, among others, said Coxon was among the best guitarists of his generation. There was scant evidence of that on Blur's output where Coxon's talent was always corralled by Albarn's needy songwriting. On the solo work, he really shines.
J.R. Moores

Ol' Dirty Bastard vs. Wu-Tang Clan

For me, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) is a life-changing record. Everybody has their favourite Wu Tang member, and Ol' Dirty Bastard is mine; his unhinged contributions are unlike anything before or since. He barks and hollers and introduces the Ghostface Killah whenever he feels like it to legendary electric effect; no insecurity, no self-seriousness, total shamanism.

Return To The 36 Chambers is an hour of unfiltered ODB that doesn't dull the enigma. The RZA production on his solo debut is smoky and bassy, and ODB's performance is stunning as he warbles and struts through some of the finest theatre in the history of hip hop. The spontaneous romp of 'Shimmy Shimmy Ya' is unstoppable, and the confrontations of angular tracks like 'The Stomp' and 'Raw Hide' are animalistic.

With fame, and his problems with addiction, Russell Jones' musical output never reached these heady heights again. His demise was tragic and fraught with legal problems, for which he was not entirely blameless. But as Ol' Dirty Bastard, for the full hour of Return To The 36 Chambers, we find a true original at the absolute peak of his powers.
Cal Cashin

Lindsey Buckingham vs. Fleetwood Mac

The moments of eccentricity and experimentation found on Fleetwood Mac's 1979 ambitious double album Tusk weren't a one-off thing — they carried over into Lindsey Buckingham's idiosyncratic solo career during and outside of his time with the band. Rather than further milking the phenomenally-successful pop formula of Rumours, the singer-guitarist chose to follow a different path, resulting in a number of brave and adventurous records.

Particularly on 1981's Law And Order and 1984's Go Insane, Buckingham virtually played all of the instruments on his minimalist-sounding pop-rock songs, some of which border on the avant-garde ('That's How We Do It In L.A.', 'Playing In The Rain', 'D.W. Suite'). Of his six studio albums (not counting Buckingham Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham Christine McVie), the brilliant Out Of The Cradle from 1992 may have been his definitive work while Fleetwood Mac were creatively struggling for most of the '90s.

Like his hero Brian Wilson, Buckingham treated the studio space like an instrument in itself. Yet amid the occasional experimentation, he peppered his songs with just enough catchy hooks and rip-roaring guitar solos ('Trouble', 'Holiday Road', 'Countdown') that don't stray too far from his work with the Mac. Inevitably and perhaps unfairly, Buckingham's unconventional solo music has been obscured by the mammoth popularity of his now-erstwhile group.

"That's always been a luxury that I’ve had as an artist," he once told me in 2011, "having that large machine, which feeds certain things [such as] politics [and] financial considerations. And then the small machine, which has proven to feed the heart and the sense of risk-taking and all of that kind of stuff. They support each other, certainly. But the solo part, it makes it hard for people to want to step up to the plate for that, because everyone is worried about the bottom line to some degree."
David Chiu

Madvillain vs. MF DOOM

In the early 2000s, Daniel Dumile worked under countless aliases, including King Geedorah, Viktor Vaughn and most famously MF DOOM, each allowing him to show off slightly different facets of his cartoonish personality. Otis Jackson Jr., under the name Madlib, has a list of credits and collaborations as long as your arm, including work with J Dilla, Freddie Gibbs and the whole Blue Note back catalogue.

However, it's the 2004 team-up as Madvillain that is likely to be the headline on either of their rap sheets. Capturing both at the peak of their powers, with an understanding that seems preternatural, Madvillainy stands alone. Madlib sewed together a set of classic-sounding boom-bap beats with comic book interjections, and DOOM gobbled it up, dropping colourful and compact bars with glee. Rarely has the rapper sounded more alert than across the unskippable Madvillainy. The tracks rarely last more than two minutes, but each is stuffed with enough obscure references to keep listeners hooked for days.

Of course, fans have long demanded a follow-up, and Madlib got so frustrated at not being able to get DOOM to commit that he released a whole remixed version of Madvillainy in an effort to appease them – but there's just no touching the original. Perhaps DOOM knew they'd captured lightning in a bottle the first time, and sensibly decided to leave the legacy untarnished – even if it is pure frustration for fans who have lived and re-lived those precious 47 minutes countless times.
Rob Hakimian

Neon Neon vs. Super Furry Animals

Neon Neon made two outré concept albums: one about the American car designer John DeLorean; the other about the Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli. Both lives produce evocative biographies. On 2008's Stainless Style DeLorean, the glorious embodiment of capitalist failure, serenades his alleged lover, the "movie star" Raquel Welch. On 2013's Praxis Makes Perfect Feltrinelli, the committed communist and marketing extraordinaire, laments his thwarted translations of Dr. Zhivago, under "cold embargo" in the Soviet Union.

Super Furry Animals' frontman Gruff Rhys and LA dance producer Boom Bip comprise the project, generating a cavalcade of '80s-influenced electro-pop. These ostensibly forgettable romps capture something essential about homage and pastiche, about straddling irony and sincerity. Such tensions exist through all parties: testaments, even, to the lives of Delorean and Feltrinelli. Exhausting old Casio keyboards functions as a melancholy memorial to their complicated legacies.

If hollow and capricious, the songs at least have brute conviction. Aided by Bip's synth veneers and magpie genre-picking, Rhys' conscious literacy appears variously deadpan and euphoric. Bip's solo stylings have a sardonic accompaniment; Rhys' lyricisms, sometimes lost in SFA's psychedelia experiments, have embellished lines of sonic support. Contained in Neon Neon is the reconciliation of the duo's independent contradictions. They embrace the spirit of pretence, and by doing so, it is made meaningful.
Joseph Owen

Passengers vs. U2

Thanks to some two decades of dodgy marketing decisions, albums produced by committee and a questionable approach to taxation among many, many other sins, it's easy to forget that U2 were a band that once actually took chances to produce some stunning music. Their early '90s re-invention from wannabe heartland roots rockers to a European industrial machine fuelled by contemporary beats and attitudes proved to be as successful as it was unexpected. But it was with Passengers – their side project with Brian Eno – that U2 created some of the most stunning and sublime music of their career.

Alleging to be a collection of music written for films, Passengers' Original Soundtracks 1 is an album that sees the world's then biggest band leave their comfort zone to challenge themselves as much as their audience. It's not wholly successful, but when it does hit the mark, it serves to remind that no rock band of this stature pushes this hard anymore.
Julian Marszalek

Gravediggaz vs. De La Soul and Wu-Tang Clan

Producers Prince Paul (De La Soul) and RZA brought out each other's eccentricities and zest for the strange with their "horrorcore" project Gravediggaz. RZA and Prince Paul, performing under the pseudonyms of The RZArector and The Undertaker respectively, severed the Geto Boys' fascinations with horror and cartoonish violence from their southern gangsta rap template and afflicted them with further perversions of esoterica, surrealism, and the macabre. Where the Geto Boys provocatively located a sense of enigma and mythology within the tales of urban violence inherent to the gangster rap ethos, Gravediggaz shunned tales of the street for tales of the mind.

"My head keeps on spinning, constantly continuing / Two tabs of mescaline fucks up my adrenaline / I'm in a 'fuck that shit' and I can't escape it / It's like goo-goddamnit, I hate it," raps Rza on 'Defective Trip (Trippin')' from Gravediggaz '94 album Six Feet Deep. It's especially fascinating to consider Gravediggaz hitting the scene in 1994, the same year that Joe Biden's brutally punitive crime bill was passed. The lives of the American city working class were soon to be saturated with the transcendental doom that was the “three strikes and you're out" law.
Adam Lehrer

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