Heavenly Indeed: The 10 Best Indie Rock Supergroups


The first album from Mister Heavenly, Out of Love , officially dropped this week, heralding the official arrival of Sup Pop’s newest indie rock supergroup. Now, though a supergroup, especially in the obsessive fan atmosphere of indie rock, always sounds like a good idea — take four musicians from great bands and they’re obviously make a great band, right? Right — they can run the gamut from wonderful to acceptable to underwhelming to just plain bad. However, since we’ve been digging Mister Heavenly’s new release these past few days, we’ve been inspired to chronicle some of the best indie rock all-star teams in recent history, from the very large and very famous to the more obscure. Click through to see some of our favorites, and let us know which of yours we’ve missed in the comments.

Mister Heavenly (Ryan Kattner of Man Man, Nick Thornburn of Islands, Joe Plummer of Modest Mouse)

Okay, okay, you caught us. We’re complete devotees of Man Man’s Ryan Kattner (aka Honus Honus) and will most likely enjoy any track on which he opens that big, rumbling mouth of his. But Nick Thornburn, the frontman of Islands (and the Unicorns, come to that) and Modest Mouse drummer Joe Plummer are no slouches either, and the veteran lineup shows in this album. Though Man Man’s work and Islands’ are fairly dissimilar within the indie rock genre, Mister Heavenly’s “doom-wop” manages to fuse the sweet, milky voice of Thornburn with the burning splendor of Kattner’s with perfect tension, Plummer holding it down as the mutual point of reference on drums. They’ve ditched the headline-making bass player who toured with them last year, but it’s so much the better. Less nerdy indie boy sweetness, more grouchy keys. Count us in.

Monsters of Folk (Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Conor Oberst and M.Ward)

It took Monsters of Folk five years from the time of their forming until they released their first record, and no wonder. These are three guys with a lot on their plates. Billed as this generation’s Traveling Wilburys, we’re not sure they quite lived up to the hype, but the loose, dreamy tracks and those key moments where their voices align in perfect harmonies make them one of the better collaborations out there, hype or no.

Broken Bells (Danger Mouse, James Mercer of the Shins)

This seemingly bizarre pairing ends up with a great album, a textural crossover between indie rock melodies and dramatic R&B styles, qualities which seem to suit each other well. Though at moments Mercer’s highly recognizable voice makes Broken Bells just sound like a hyper produced Shins, most of the album is a skillful team effort, filled with brilliant choruses and cascading melodies sure to please.

Middle Brother (John J. McCauley III of Deer Tick, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit)

There’s nothing for it: Middle Brother is a ton of fun. Though the three take turns on vocals (with Goldsmith oft singing the emotive crooners) McCauley’s craggy voice steals the show, turning the group’s modern rock songs into ragged booze-soaked tunes worthy of bar gigs and platinum records alike.

The Dead Weather (Jack White, Jack Lawrence of the Raconteurs, Alison Mosshart of The Kills, Dean Fertita of Queens of the Stone Age)

Jack White is, as we all know, the equivalent of the town bicycle when it comes to supergroups. However, the Dead Weather is by far our favorite of his many iterations, probably because Mosshart takes over a good deal of the reins (if we know her, she just reached over and pulled), giving this primal, masculine rock band a yelping, grungy edge.

The Postal Service (Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, Jimmy Tamborello of Dntel)

Everyone knows the twee-as-fuck story of the Postal Service: its two far-flung members wrote their collaborative songs by mail, each recording his own parts and ideas and sending it back to the other. Adorable. Nonetheless, their 2003 album Give Up was a polished pop gem that only the grumpiest of music critics could argue with. And with Jenny Lewis singing backup vocals, it couldn’t get much sweeter.

Wild Flag (Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney, Mary Timony of Helium, Rebecca Cole of the Minders)

Needless to say, given the lineup of 90s lady punk-rock superstars, Wild Flag rocks. An early bio posted on their Myspace page said: “What is the sound of an avalanche taking out a dolphin? What do get when you cross a hamburger with a hot dog? The answer is: WILD FLAG.” Well, we don’t know about the food products or the dolphin, but an avalanche sure sounds right. Keep your eyes peeled for their debut album, dropping next month on Merge.

Battles (Ian Williams of Don Caballero, Dave Konopka of Lynx, John Stanier of Helmet)

What can we say? Battles isn’t often considered a supergroup, or at least at this point they’re too well-established to be marked that way, but we know the truth. You can see it in the way everyone plays a million instruments. Either way, their breathless, zany rock leaves us pretty excited.

Broken Social Scene (Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning, Feist, Jason Collett, Emily Haines of Metric, Amy Millan, Evan Cranley, and Torquil Campbell of Stars, Charles Spearin of Do Make Say Think and everybody else in Canada)

What can we even say about Broken Social Scene? The Canadian collective has featured almost everybody at one time or another, which makes it a little bit of a different beast than the others on our list, but we felt we had to include it. After all, every indie kid in the 2000’s lived and died by BSS, its cacophony of sounds somehow perfectly primed to drown out any problems, champagne or otherwise.

The New Pornographers (A.C. Newman, Neko Case, Dan Bejar and John Collins of Destroyer, Kathryn Calder of Immaculate Machine, Kurt Dahle and Todd Fancey of Limblifter)

Another Canadian behemoth, the New Pornographers’ tight indie pop is a far cry from the kind of folkish sweetness with which Neko Case ended up making a name for herself, but it sure sounds a lot like A.C. Newman. Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you, we’re just pointing it out.