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11 Awesome Modern Electronic Music Duos

11 Awesome Modern Electronic Music Duos

13 Comments 24 June 2010

I’m a little behind the times and just heard about La Roux but I am digging them. It made me realize that a lot of my favorite modern music is heavy on the synth and often just two people behind the scenes. Certainly in the era of Pro Tools and the digital studio it’s become easier to break away from having a full band without sacrificing big, epic soundscapes. So who are some of the best of the last 10 years?
Click here for a playlist with all the following tracks
Daft Punk
I would put them on this list for their names alone: Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter. And don’t forget my life philosophy. But it just so happens that their brand of robot house makes even the most begrudging ass shake. Probably their most famous album, Discovery, has been criticized for being over-reliant on the samples used, but they take some very obscure oldies and dust them off for good times (they also play and record their own intruments). The real capper for Discovery is that the entire album was turned into a kick-ass musical anime called Interstella 5555. And did I mention that they’re scoring (and will cameo in) the new Tron movie? And that they’re never seen in public as a duo without their robot helmets?

Listen to these:

One More Time – The classic single from Discovery (and Daft Punk’s biggest hit to date). It opens the album and let’s you know that it’s ok to party. A severely autotuned Romanthony provides the vocals.

Something About Us – A slower tempo love jam provides a bit of a break from all the ass-shaking on Discovery.

Robot Rock/Oh Yeah (from Alive 2007) – All my friends went to see Daft Punk in Berkeley on this tour. I didn’t go. I live in regret. Get some black lights, get drunk, take some E, crack the glow sticks, and turn this up until your ears bleed and you’ll have one-millionth the experience my friends had.
ChromeoP-Thugg and Dave 1 are proof that despite thousands of years of war Jews and Arabs can make beautiful music together. Well aware of their ’80s funk influences, Chromeo brings nothing less than catchy hooks and danceable breaks on almost every track. Dave 1 handles the guitar and most of the vocal duties while P-thugg mans the keyboards and offers the sweetest vocoder work this side of 1985. With the exception of “Needy Girl,” I’m not that crazy about their first album, She’s in Control. It’s their sophomore album Fancy Footwork that earns them a permanent spot on my cool list (and numerous plays on all sorts of commercials, games, and TV shows).

Listen to these:

Needy Girl – A ’70s groove with some very ’80s synth drums and scratching(!). Solid track.

Tenderoni – P-Thugg and Dave 1′s call-and-return open this song like a human and computer talking. If you don’t instantly love it I hate you.

Momma’s Boy – Often compared to (and friends of!) Hall and Oates, you can see the influence all over this awesome song.

Night by Night (Siriusmo Remix) – From their upcoming album and expertly remixed.
JusticeIn 2007 Justice dropped their debut album,, square on my dome. The album starts with a booming orchestral clip that sounds like it could be from Planet of the Apes or Conan the Barbarian. It’s not long before Justice’s signature choppy, percussive beats kick in. The bass-guitar loops they use are insane. It’s “DVNO” that won my heart though. An ode to cheesy, dated dance clubs that you find in every city, it features awesome guest vocals from Mehdi Pinson and it might be the most catchy track I’ve ever heard. Even the video’s awesome.

The Michael Jackson ode “D.A.N.C.E.” and “Tthhee PPaarrttyy” make their debut album an immediate go-to for any party mix.

Listen to these:

D.A.N.C.E. – A tribute to the King of Pop. How many references can you catch?

DVNO (featuring Mehdi Pinson) – I love this song. The video seals the deal.

Tthhee Ppaarrttyy (featuring Uffie) – Who the F is Uffie and why isn’t she way more famous? She raps the shit out of this song.

MGMT’s Electric Feel (Justice Remix) – Listen to what they do to the most overplayed song of the last few years.
Neon NeonIt’s possible that Neon Neon may only exist as a one-off project from producer Boom Bip and singer Gruff Rhys but what a one-off. A concept album based around the life of John Delorean (creator of the DMC-12, AKA the Back to the Future car), Stainless Style is all about ’80s synth-pop and the excesses of the young rich. It’s almost an alternate soundtrack to American Psycho. While most songs are told from the point of view of John Delorean (“Raquel,” “I Lust U,” “Michael Douglas”) the rap-track “Luxury Pool” tells the tale of John Delorean and it’s easily the best song ever made about a car engineer. Easily.

Listen to these:

Dream Cars (featuring Fab Moretti of The Strokes) – I love the ballsy opening and the call-and-return nature of the lyrics.

I Told Her on Alderaan – A Star Wars reference?! Even without a reference to Leia’s poor, doomed homeworld I would still love this song.

Michael Douglas – Purportedly, John Delorean had an identity crisis, got his chin redone, and spent his days recovering by the pool with Michael Douglas. A bit down-beat and industrial but I love the chorus.

Luxury Pool (featuring Fatlip) – How awesome does the DMC-12 sound in this song?
La RouxLike Neon Neon, La Roux are a definite throwback to ’80s synth-pop. The Human League and Erasure similarities are impossible to ignore. But it’s how they’ve gussied-up and modernized that sound that makes them stand out. It’s harder-hitting and the vocals have a lot more power behind them. You’ll also hear some of the 8-bit Gameboy scene in here. It’s good stuff.

Listen to these:

Bulletproof – When it starts you’ll swear it’s an ’80s song you just can’t place. Then Eleanor Jackson starts singing and you’ll fall in love. I love the way she delivers her lines. The chorus sounds like something out of a Debbie Gibson song. Which for some reason, doesn’t suck.

TigerLily – This song’s a little more modern. Eleanor brings some good swagger in the verse and then softens up in the chorus.

I’m Not Your Toy – And we’re back to the ’80s. Definitely sounds like the intro to an NES game when it starts and I fucking love that.
Ghostland ObservatoryDisclaimer: I’m not that crazy about their albums. Despite that fact, my buddy Pat took me to one of their lives shows at The Key Club here in L.A. and I had my mind blown. I suddenly understood why all my Austin City Limits friends were all in a tizzy over them. Chest-bursting bass, glam-theatrics, and a laser light show that threatens to burn out your un-blinking eyes. How two dudes can put on such a huge show is beyond me, but they do. If you get a chance to see them live, you do it.

Listen to these:

Sad Sad City – This is the staple Ghostland song. Watching Aaron Behrens work the stage during this song is awesome. You will sing along.

Piano Man – The piano breakdown halfway through this song is awesome.

Victory Lap – I’m reticent to include this since it’s unlike their other heavier tracks, but I love it, so F it. (Warning, it has a bonus track tacked on, so it ends up over 10 minutes with a ton of silence in the middle)
Sleigh BellsThe newest (for me) entry on this list. Says NotZombie buddy (and creator of the Quellipsis): “…just heard their single on the radio, it’s the sweetest song I’ve heard in a long time.”
It’s a chick (Alexis Krauss) on vocals and a dude (Derek E Miller) doing everything else. Sleigh Bells is all fuzzy bass and distorted rock guitars with chopped up vocal tracks. Live, they use a backing track on a laptop while Krauss sings and Miller rocks a Gibson SG with a shitload of effects pedals.

Listen to these:

Tell ‘Em – The album opens with this barn-burner. Double-tracked guitars, finger-snaps, and reverb. Let’s go!

Run the Heart – It starts with the audio equivalent of naval lint and those choppy ah-ah-ahs but then the bass starts swinging and you’ll forgive the song for making it sound like your stereo’s broken.

Rill Rill – Like a country song on a warped LP with pop vocals distorted and laid on top. Is that a church bell?
Chemical BrothersThe Chemical Brothers have been around so long I almost feel like they don’t qualify as modern. They originally called themselves The Dust Brothers (after the famous producing team behind The Beastie Boys’ ground-breaking Paul’s Boutique) but had to change their name when they started getting famous in the US. Who the hell just steals another artist’s name? Regardless, the Chemical Brothers exploded and rode the wave of late-’90s techno with artists like Moby and The Crystal Method.

Listen to these:

One Too Many Mornings – How can a song be chill with such strong bass? I don’t know. But I love this song turned up LOUD. Great, great track for cruising along the cost with the top down on a warm summer night.

Not Another Drugstore – It’s a long-ass mix track, but I heard it on a sampler at a Wherehouse and made my first techno purchase. I didn’t even know what a DJ mix album was at the time. Also, Pam Grier’s on it.

Das Spiegel [youtube link] – Giggling babies, laser guns, and ticking clocks. The layers build in classic Chemical Style. Clocks have never sounded so cool. (No GrooveShark link for some reason)

Galvanize – This song gets me amped up. Q-Tip brings some really strong vocals. “The time has come to… PUSH THE BUTTON!”
Postal ServiceDefinitely less of the thumping-bass type electronica and more of the bleep-bloop variety (I know, I’m such a good music writer), The Postal Service is a side project from Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and Eltronic artist Dntel. Unfortunately, after a killer debut (critically and commercially) and the start of a second album they both decided that their primary projects were of more importance. Bullshit. Death Cab has maybe one good song on each album and who the hell even owns a Dntel album? The Postal Service combines Dntel’s simple MIDI pop beats with catchy, dream-like vocals from Gibbard. The name comes from the recording process- Dntel would create the backing track in LA, mail it to Gibbard in Seattle, who would add vocals and mail it back. How cute. Add in guest vocals from the fetching Jenny Lewis (of The Wizard fame) and Jen Wood and you have a winner. Oh, and Gibbard’s genius, borderline simplistic lyrics get me every time.

Listen to these:

Nothing Better – A nice little duet with Jen Wood about a couple on the verge of a break-up; the clueless guy desperate to fix things and the girl ready to get the F out.

Sleeping In – My intro to The Postal Service. What if the world were just a LITTLE different? What if we weren’t so fucking cynical?

Brand New Colony – This song is adorable. “I’ll be the platform shoes/ Undo what heredity’s done to you/ You won’t have to strain to look into my eyes.” AWWWWWW. And that NES intro? Great stuff.

Such Great Heights – I wasn’t going to include it since this is one of the most ubiquitous songs of the century (thanks UPS) but it really is perfect pop. “I am thinking it’s a sign/ That the freckles in our eyes/ Are mirror images and when we kiss
They’re perfectly aligned.” AWWWW AGAIN!

Such Great Heights (Iron and Wine version) – I guess I’m cheating since this isn’t even The Postal Service, but it IS a B-Side and it’s a lovely cover. Do give it a listen.
NASA
No, not THAT NASA. This one stands for North America/South America and they’re more hip hop than electronic, but in the spirit of the 2010 World Cup, I feel it’s only appropriate to celebrate the awesome melding of these two cultures. Sam Spiegel AKA Squeak E Clean AKA Spike Jonze’s brother is from New York and Ze Gonzales AKA DJ Zegon reps Brazil. Their multi-year collaboration, The Spirit of Apollo, has a guest list that’s a who’s who of the music world: Tom Waits, Kanye West, Karen O, David Byrne, RZA, Method Man, John Frusciante, MIA, Nina Persson, Cee-Lo, Santigold, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, Chali 2na and more.

In addition to GrooveShark, I’m linking these tracks to their respective videos, because NASA seeks out great artists to create awesome videos for all of their tracks.

Listen to (watch) these:

Way Down (featuring RZA, Barbie Hatch, & John Frusciante) – West side Story told via Los Angeles gangs represented by warring birds. SICK!
Video

Spacious Thoughts (featuring Tom Waits & Kool Keith) – This video is absolutely beautiful. And pairing Kool Keith with Tom Waits? Great stuff.
Video

Gifted (featuring Kanye West, Santogold, & Lykke Li) – this video isn’t as cool as the previous two but it’s a great track.
Video

Phantogram
Phantogram is like a more consistent, more listenable version of Mates of State (the two share a label). Sarah Barthel takes on keyboard/synth duties and Josh Carter handles guitars and I assume they both monkey around with loops, beats, percussion, etc in the upstate New York barn they call a studio. The barn is probably the reason why even with all the modern-day synth and drum loops Phantogram manages to sound earthy.

Listen to these:

Mouthful of Diamonds – A scratchy drum loop, strong piano, and Sarah’s sweet Cardigan’s-like vocals make this song instantly likable.

You Are the Ocean – Josh takes over on vocals and he can sing too. No fair!

Futuristic Casket – This song almost sounds like a Moby song and I mean that in the best way. It’s a little more upbeat and the vocals are layered in a little washed out like a copy of a copy. It’s good stuff.

Your Comments

13 Comments so far

  1. Jessipoo says:

    omg … we’re on the same page. i’m going to see chromeo in august. you better see them at the hollywood bowl when they are in town. daft punk, justice and ghostland amazing live. i’m not a fan of la roux. i change the radio station when they are on. yep. i said it. i must say, being a former raver, you might want to check out a little moby early underground, chemical brothers, wolfgang gartner, maybe even some fischerspooner and crystal method! i’d delete postal service as being electronic but good nonetheless. wish we could dance together for old times sake. xoxo

  2. JDub says:

    What about junior senior? They are a duo and made and 8 bit video.

  3. skip glitch says:

    La Roux is not a duo they are a band. 6 members.

  4. Patttttt says:

    What about Simon and Garfunkel?

  5. Kelly says:

    Wow! Great list. I don’t know lots of these bands but i know a few. Thanks for telling me some i didn’t know :)
    I like: Capsule, The presets, La Roux, Ghostland observatory, Daft Punk, N.A.S.A.
    The presets are more techno though (?)
    ah, well. Much the same thing. :)
    thankyou

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  7. dude says:

    The two best electronic duos are Autechre and Boards of Canada. WHy are neither of them on this list?

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