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Playing Well With Others: On The Power Of The Musical Duet

Music
Photo by Alysse Gafkjen

How Lera Lynn has redefined the duet

The image of the singer-songwriter in music is often a lonely one. A single voice on stage, the artist pouring their heart out, without anyone else to share the emotional burden. While great bands can distill the force of each member into a collective identity, songwriters are empires unto themselves, and letting anyone else in is something of a balancing act.

On Lera Lynn’s new album Plays Well with Others, she undertakes such a balancing act on each of the album's nine songs, all of them duets, with people like Andrew Combs, Dylan LeBlanc, and elder statesmen like Rodney Crowell. While the album sees Lynn take lead-billing, she simultaneously tries on a series of new identities: "Breakdown," with Combs, has a dirty, gulch-y, eerie undercurrent; "What is Love," with LeBlanc, classic and elegiac; "Wolf Like Me," with Shovels and Rope, cool and unusual, with a deep, rumbling organ sound padding out the whole song.

There’s a distinction in musical history between duets and, say, when a band uses backing singers, but should there be? "Midnight Train to Georgia" is as much about The Pips as it is Gladys Knight. Merry Clayton’s background vocal on The Rolling Stones’ "Gimme Shelter" makes that song what it is, but her credit is hidden. Lynn seems to be questioning that idea in the very opening song on this record, "Same Old Song," with Peter Bradley Adams. Rather than a back-and-forth between the two, Adams and Lynn sing the song in unison, almost in a whisper. If it had appeared on another of Lynn’s albums, it’d be surprising to refer to it as a duet.

But surprising might be what Lynn is going for here, as it feels like, with this album, she is trying to redefine completely the idea of duets. This is particularly interesting given country music’s history with a very classic, almost old-fashioned style duet. Think: Dolly Parton and Kenny Rodgers crooning "Islands in the Stream" in perfect harmony. Or: Johnny Cash and June Carter going down to Jackson, dancing on a pony keg. Even more recently, there have been examples of these kinds of duets between Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake, Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow, Brad Paisley and LL Cool J (although the less said about "Accidental Racist," the better). Lynn is placing herself within the tradition, but also setting herself apart from it with the kind of choices she makes, particularly in the album’s closing track, a cover of "Almost Persuaded."

It’s telling that on an album where it feels Lynn is trying out a lot of new hats, she ends with something totally classic. "Almost Persuaded" is part of the canon of country. Written in 1966 by Glenn Sutton and Billy Sherrill, first released by David Houston, it’s gone on to be covered by George Jones, Merle Haggard, Etta James, Louis Armstrong, and countless others. In the song, a man becomes tempted at a bar by a woman, and as they dance together and she asks him to come home with her, he sees his wedding ring reflected in her eye, and he stops and goes back to his wife. 

Lynn, joined by John Paul White, flips the script. Coming in on the second half of the song, she switches up the pronouns of that verse. It’s now the man coming onto the woman, and the woman who is guided by her conscience, and says no. It’s a small decision, but a powerful one. Lynn gives a voice, and an agency, to a character who’s spent the last half a century of country music trying to take a man away from his wife. The narrative becomes far less clear-cut. It’s a reminder that these songs aren’t preserved in amber—they can be pulled apart, reshaped, and made to tell a different story. 

It’s not a million miles away from the kind of sampling that happens a lot in hip-hop. Tupac isn’t technically duetting with Bruce Hornsby on "Changes," but he uses his chorus from "That's Just the Way It Is" to help tell his story—the two songs are so thematically linked that they might as well be. On the other side, Dido’s "Thank You" is not in any way about a crazed stalker, but the mood she sets up in those opening verses of hopelessness and sadness is transplanted brilliantly into Eminem’s "Stan." You could even argue for Frank Ocean’s nostalgia, ultra being an album of duets, taking full backing tracks and writing new songs over them—there’s only one person singing, but he’s in conversation with something else.

There’s a kind of jeopardy in duets. The idea of someone being pushed out of their comfort zone, or attempting something different, raises the stakes. This is as true of Kanye West and Jay Z’s Watch the Throne as it is of Lou Reed and Metallica’s Lulu. There’s the fear of being overshadowed, or being stifled, or even just the fear that collaboration on paper won’t have any chemistry in the studio. There’s also a small novelty factor. Duets are like crossover episodes. There’s something fun about listening to two familiar voices run alongside each other, or seeing a guest introduced halfway through, even if it doesn’t always come off.

But, implicit in the form is the fact that you have to give something of yourself away. The reason you do that is the hope that the returns will be greater. On Plays Well with Others, Lynn makes that bet with each of the songwriters she’s brought in, and it comes off every time.

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Screenshot via YouTube

The band shared details about their new St. Vincent-produced album that will drop "you into the world of catastrophe"

Sleater-Kinney just shared more information about their St. Vincent-produced album and dropped a new single.

Per Billboard, Sleater-Kinney revealed that their new album, which they've been teasing since early this year and will be their first since No Cities To Love from 2015, will be called The Center Won't Hold. It's due out on August 16 via Mom + Pop Records. "We're always mixing the personal and the political but on this record, despite obviously thinking so much about politics, we were really thinking about the person—ourselves or versions of ourselves or iterations of depression or loneliness—in the middle of the chaos," Carrie Brownstein said in a statement. Corin Tucker further noted that the new album will "[drop] you into the world of catastrophe that touches on the election."

Janet Weiss noted that the band will "explore a different sound palette" with this album, and pointed to St. Vincent as the reason behind it. She said that St. Vincent "has a lot of experience building her own music with keyboards and synthesizers so she could be our guide to help us make sense of this new landscape and still sound like us."

To satiate us until then, the band released a lyric video for new single, "The Future Is Here," which is very grungy. Bump it, below.

Sleater-Kinney - The Future Is Here (Official Lyric Video) www.youtube.com

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FROM THE WORLD WIDE WEB

This is so satisfying!

Even Jon Snow knows just how unsatisfying the final season of Game of Thrones was, and he's ready to apologize. Well, a deepfake of him is at least. A heavily-edited version of Snow's speech from the fourth episode—just before the bodies of those lost in the Battle of Winterfell get burned—now features Snow apologizing for the conclusion of the show and lighting the script on fire.

"It's time for some apologies. I'm sorry we wasted your time," Snow begins. "And I know nothing made sense at the end. When the Starbucks cup is the smallest mistake, you know you fucked up! We take the blame. I'm sorry we wrote this in like six days or something," he adds, before signaling to his peers to light the script with torches and "just forget it forever." "Fuck Season 8," he says before the pages begin to crackle and burn.

If there were more lines left to alter, we would have loved to see Snow also tackle how messy Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister's story line ended up, as well as Bran's kingship, Cersei's boring demise, and the water bottle appearance.

Watch the entire deepfake and try to heal the wounds left by HBO below.

BREAKING: JON SNOW FINALLY APOLOGIZED FOR SEASON 8 youtu.be

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Photo by Darren Craig

It premieres today, exclusively via NYLON

In LP's song "Shaken," the most recent single from her 2018 record Heart To Mouth, she tells the story of seeing her lover out with someone else—ouch. Today, exclusively on NYLON, she releases a cheeky animated music video that pokes fun at the song's heightened drama and perfectly demonstrates all the angst that comes with falling hard for someone.

"She looks at you like I used to/ And I'm just sitting in the corner sh-sh-shaken," LP sings, as the visual—with art by Maayan Priva—depicts the singer hanging out in a bar, watching the girl she likes meet up with another girl. Despite the situation's inherent drama, "Shaken" is less of a ballad and more of an upbeat bop. LP told us she loves the way "this little video captures some of the fun of the song, and its inherent comical anxiety." Sure, heartbreak isn't that funny, but our (sometimes) overly dramatic reaction to it kind of is.

"'Shaken' feels like a bit of a wild card on this record," LP says. "It's the closest I've come to writing a musical, which I hope to do one day." We heartily endorse this idea: Please, LP, give us the queer jukebox musical we crave.

Until that day comes, though, you can watch the music video for "Shaken," below.

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Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures.

This cameo has the Beyhive buzzing

I went to see Men In Black: International alone. Which would have been fine if it wasn't for the shock I received when I saw two specific characters on the screen. Unable to keep it to myself, I shared a curious look with the stranger next to me, who was obviously thinking the same thing as me. "Is that them...?" I whispered first. "I think… so," she replied. Then the two men in question started to dance, and we were both sure: "Yep, that's them."

It was Laurent and Larry Nicolas Bourgeois, better known as Les Twins. Fans of Beyoncé will recognize the duo as the talented brothers who often accompany her on tour and in music videos. In Men In Black: International, the two of them play shapeshifting entities—they're more like energy forces than aliens—who pursue Tessa Thompson's and Chris Hemsworth's characters throughout the duration of the film. The twins' ability to manipulate their bodies in ways that are graceful and otherworldly really helps sell them as extraterrestrials and is fun to watch.

So if Thompson in a suit or Hemsworth shirtless weren't enough motivation, here's another reason to go see it. If you look close, you can see them in the trailer below.

MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL - Official Trailer www.youtube.com

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Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

"I am honored to share this bonding experience with my own daughter"

In a heart-warming Instagram photo, Serena Williams shares the history of hair braiding and the importance of the tradition. The tennis player shared a photo of herself braiding her daughter Olympia Ohanian's hair and spoke about how "honored" she was to be able to "add another generation" to the tradition of the practice.

The photo shows Williams attentively braiding her daughter's hair while Olympia smiles, obviously loving the experience. Williams noted that hair braiding was created by the Himba people in Namibia, Africa, and that "we have been braiding our hair for centuries." "In many African tribes braided hairstyles were a unique way to identify each tribe," she continued.

Williams pointed out that braiding is a bonding experience. "People would often take the time to socialize," she wrote. "It began with the elders braiding their children, then the children would watch and learn from them. The tradition of bonding was carried on for generations, and quickly made its way across the world."

Williams closed her post with a sweet message about her daughter, saying that she's "honored to share this bonding experience" with her.

See the post, below.

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