All in the Family: 10 Great Bands of Relatives

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We’re not generally surprised by anything that happens in the world of music these days, but even so, we were somewhat taken aback by the news that Wu-Tang Clan are apparently replacing the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard with his son (who’s named, inevitably, Young Dirty Bastard). The whole thing got us thinking about the many varied and often strange family dynamics that have existed in music over the years, and about how some of our favorite bands are based around fraternal, sororal and other blood-based relationships. There’s the obvious ones –- The Kinks, The Carpenters, The Jackson Five, The Beach Boys, Oasis, Tegan and Sara, etc etc. But there are plenty of others, and so for this feature, we’ve chosen ten of our favorite more contemporary musical blood relationships. Let us know who we’ve missed.

Mystery Jets

This British five-piece are that rarest of beasts, a band that spans two generations (and not just because son joined father’s band). Lead singer Blaine Harrison’s father Henry plays guitar in Mystery Jets and has done ever since the band were formed on the exotically named Eel Pie Island in London in early 2004. Clearly, there’s the occasional moment of awkwardness -– as Blaine told The Guardian a few years back, “You think, ‘Shit, if I can fuck girls and take drugs in front of my Dad, where are the boundaries?'” -– but as far as father-son issues go, well, there are worse ones to deal with. In deference to his advancing age, perhaps, the elder Harrison doesn’t tour with the band any more, but he still contributes to their recordings, and the band still very much revolves around the father-son axis. (There’s more on their remarkable story here.)

Kitty, Daisy & Lewis

UK siblings Kitty, Daisy and Lewis Durham clearly share an affinity for the old-school R&B, rockabilly, and blues of the 1950s, because they’ve been making their own hugely enjoyable interpretations of these sounds since their early teens (they’re 17, 19 and 22 now). Their commitment to authenticity is admirable -– they only record on vintage 1940s and ’50s equipment and apparently also collect 78rpm records. And they’re another genuinely trans-generational band -– when they play live, parents Graham and Ingrid handle guitar and double bass respectively. They’re well worth seeing in the flesh, too, because they absolutely tear it up (Lewis, in particular, has some pretty killer chops on the guitar and piano).

The National

Two sets of brothers, including one set of twins. There’s a whole lot of fraternal relationships to deal with in The National. The band divides roughly into musical blocs –- there’s the Devendorf rhythm section (drummer Bryan and bassist Scott), and then the front section, comprised of the Dessner twins (guitarist Bryce and keyboardist Aaron), and the sole non-sibling, lead vocalist Matt Berninger. It all leads to a set of, um, fascinating band dynamics -– as drummer Bryan Devendorf explained to The New York Times last year, “Matt’s the dad. Scott’s the long-suffering wife. I’m the black-sheep uncle. Aaron and Bryce are the twin daughters who like to control their parents.” Right.

The Knife

Only one set of siblings here, and we’ll have to take their word for it, since they never actually show their faces. But either way, The Knife are perhaps the most consistently fascinating brother/sister duo going around at the moment -– for all that we absolutely adored Karin Dreijer Andersson’s side project Fever Ray, we still can’t wait for another proper Knife album.

My Disco

This Australian trio are responsible for one of the great overlooked records of the last year or so (their third studio album, Little Joy, which was released in the USA earlier this year and is well worth investigating). They’re composed of drummer Rohan Rebeiro and brothers Liam and Ben Andrews, who are about as different as brothers could be –- the former tall, lanky, short-haired, and invariably dressed in button-down shirt and trousers, standing still and calm as he plucks out repetitive, robotic basslines; the latter all wild hair and flailing guitar moves. As is often the case, though, the contrast makes for a compelling creative output.

Prince Rama

As you might guess from the distinctly subcontinental flavor of their music (and the fact that they’re named after the hero of the Ramayana), sisters Taraka and Nimai Larson of Brooklyn neo-psychedelic hippies Prince Rama were raised on a Hare Krishna commune, and they met third member Michael Collins on something called a “Krishna farm.” Amusingly, the sisters’ earliest musical experiments consisted of rejecting their upbringing and starting a “Blink-182 rip-off band,” but happily, they eventually re-embraced the music of the Hare Krishnas and made it their own, creating a mind-blowing synthesis of Sanksrit mantra and whacked-out rhythms that got them signed to Animal Collective’s Paw Tracks label last year.

Midlake

Brothers Tim and McKenzie Smith apparently started out as a jazz band called The Cornbread All-Stars, with the former playing saxophone. Happily, he eventually switched to lead vocals, and the band dropped the improvised element and concentrated on writing songs. The result was The Trials of Van Occupanther, one of our favorite debut albums of the last few years -– and even if The Courage of Others was a somewhat lackluster follow-up, they remain one of the best brother-based contemporary bands.

Boards of Canada

By far the longest-running band on this list, but we’ve included them because we’re guessing that the majority of casual fans had no idea that Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin were brothers. The duo have always used different surnames, and only revealed that they were related during an interview with Pitchfork a few years back -– apparently they concealed the fact for years as they didn’t want to be compared to Orbital, strangely enough.

Fiery Furnaces

The Friedberger siblings –- brother Matthew and sister Eleanor –- are kind of like indie music’s answer to a Wes Anderson family, and if nothing else they’re definitely the most prolific brother/sister combo of the last ten years or so. They’ve turned out eight full-lengths plus a live album since 2003. And then there’s their solo work: Matthew released a solo record in 2006 and has devoted himself to putting out six this year, while Eleanor’s debut effort is due out in July. Whether all this music is actually any good or not is open to debate -– they seem to be one of those bands that polarize opinion -– but there’s no ignoring them, either way.

CocoRosie

Unlike the other sibling groups in this list, who’ve largely been making music together since they were kids, sisters Sierra and Bianca Casady hadn’t seen each other for years until a chance meeting in Paris, where the former was living while she studied to be an opera singer. The reunion catalyzed their music-making efforts -– they holed up in Sierra’s apartment and created what would become their debut album as a duo, La Maison de Mon Rêve. Ten years later, they’re still together, and still making strange, beautiful music (with just plain strange cover art).