Collaboration is one of the best parts of the creative arts, and it’s always a pleasure to see musicians we love working with musicians they love. It’s a nice reminder that musicians are also music fans, and when they’re not busy inspiring bloggers and college kids, they’re having the coolest studio sessions that none of us will ever be invited to. (Alas.) Whether it’s a backing vocal, a rap verse or just plain moral support, here’s a list of some of our favorite guest appearances this year.
Hot Chip f. Will Oldham: “I Feel Bonnie”
“I Feel Better” was one of the standouts on Hot Chip’s One Life Stand, a tender love-on-the-dance-floor jam helped by a weird video where a bald guy shot people with lasers from his mouth. It got even weirder with the release of “I Feel Bonnie,” a Hot Chip-guided remix that added vocals from Will Oldham to a clubby mix — totally not what you’d except from Oldham, who’s known for eccentric folk-tinged music, not singing over a drum machine. While he sings the original verses, he also throws in a spoken word interlude which includes mini-mantras like, “I believe that we deserve everything that we get” and “When you hold me, I feel better.” This unexpected collaboration ended up feeling better than the original song.
Kanye West f. Rihanna, Kid Cudi, Fergie, Elton John, et al: “All Of The Lights”
It was hard to pick one guest appearance off My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy — do you go with Nicki on “Monster,” Pusha on “Runaway,” Bon Iver on everything? — but without Rihanna’s vocal on “All Of The Lights,” the song would simply not exist. She’s always been especially good at adding a grander feel to songs that beg for it. When her voice kicks in over that polyrhythmic drum beat and those triumphant horns, the maximalist approach Yeezy was going for succeeds to the fullest. With lyrics that reference Michael Jackson and parenthood, it’s heavy shit and it sure isn’t Fergie giving the song its scope. Rihanna’s the only one standing next to West on top of the mountain while he bellows his lungs out.
The National f. Sufjan Stevens: “Afraid of Everyone”
So, yeah, it could’ve been anyone cooing behind Matt Berninger’s mopey voice on “Afraid of Everyone,” off The National’s High Violet, but we like the added context of Sufjan Stevens, whose Age of Adz was a melancholy, adult affair, guesting on another melancholy, adult affair. While Berninger moans “I’m afraid of everyone, I’m afraid of everyone,” Stevens is right behind him, adding a shivering solidarity to the paralyzing fear that maybe you can’t deal with everything at hand. It took Stevens five years to record a followup to Illinois, so maybe he knows exactly what’s troubling Berninger and the rest of his well-dressed band.
The-Dream f. T.I.: “Make Up Bag”
T.I. had a lot of great guest spots this year — his verse on Big Boi’s “Tangerine” was a highlight — but his appearance on “Make Up Bag,” off The-Dream’s Love King, is simple and sweet. In case you didn’t figure it out, the titular make up bag is both a bag for a girl’s makeup and the bag you buy her, and while The-Dream seems sorry about getting caught creeping on the side, T.I.’s perspective is more like, “Aw shucks, it happens.” When he drawls his way into the song after a few minutes of light-as-air The-Dream vocals, he reminds the listener that he doesn’t make up because he has to — he does it because he wants to. “All I do for you is just a part of me doing me/ See, I don’t buy ’em ’cause you mad at me.” Now that’s swagger.
Big Boi f. Yelawolf: “You Ain’t No DJ”
Yela’s lightning-quick voice and twisted wit add a ton of verve to “You Ain’t No DJ,” off Big Boi’s long-awaited Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty. “I party in poverty with people like, ‘Yeah you’re famous, so what?’/ I bet you can’t hitch that semi up to this tow truck,” he raps, casting him as the poorer-than-words scrapper to Big Boi’s Southern gentleman while they both talk about how their DJs are better than your DJs. Yeah, we’re not going to doubt them.
Flying Lotus f. Thom Yorke: “…And The World Laughs With You”
Steven Ellison surprised a lot of people with Cosmogramma, his collection of glitchy reworked hip-hop beats and layers and sound, but it was more surprising to see Radiohead’s Thom Yorke lending his spooky voice to this cut. As a pulsing beat stutters every which way, Yorke sounds as deathly as ever, singing, “I need to know you’re out there/ I just need to know you’re out there” while the buzzes and synths go crazy behind him. Loneliness, of course, is a Radiohead thematic staple, and matched with Ellison’s experimental sound, Yorke might’ve made people forget there hasn’t been a new Radiohead record in over two years.
Titus Andronicus f. Craig Finn: The Monitor
Not a typical guest appearance: To clarify, Finn didn’t sing on the record, and he certainly didn’t play guitar. What he added were spoken-word introductions before the start of each song, reading quotes from several Civil War-era figures like Abe Lincoln and Jefferson Davis to add thematic nuance to Titus Andronicus’ historical opus. Finn’s songs with The Hold Steady are all about digging into the past to find the grander narrative but it’s possible he was one-upped by Titus front man Patrick Stickles, who went back to the antebellum era to find his personal solace. He sounds ripped right from an old radio recording or perhaps a really crappily-recorded Hold Steady demo, like when he intones Abe Lincoln’s self-flagellating letter to a friend reading, “I am now the most miserable man on the planet.”
Prefix’s Best Of 2010:
Best Albums / Reader’s Best Albums / Staff Best Albums / Best Guest Appearances / Albums From 2009 We’re Still Listening To / Top 10 Mixtapes & Free Rap Albums / Best Reissues / Rap Verses / Worst Album Covers / Best Album Covers