It’s nice to be pleasantly surprised once in a while, and Free Reign, the new album by UK band Clinic, has been on high rotation here at Flavorpill of late. We’ve always rather liked Clinic’s work, but we’ll be honest — we didn’t expect to enjoy this record nearly as much as we have been. Perhaps the most notable thing about Free Reign in comparison to Clinic’s other records is just how interesting its production and general sound is, which is perhaps not surprising since Oneohtrix Point Never assumed production duties. There have been plenty of examples of electronic artists producing songs for rock-inclined types over the years, everything from Giorgio Moroder working with Blondie on “Call Me” to Alec Empire collaborating with the John Spencer Blues Explosion and, um, Chris Cornell working with Timbaland on the ill-fated Scream. Here are some of our favorites. Did we miss any?
Clinic — Free Reign
Producer: Oneohtrix Point Never
So, yes, Free Reign. Among other things, it rather reminds of Liars’ standout WIXIW from earlier this year (of which more shortly) — there’s a similar sense of existing in some fertile border zone between guitar music and electronica, and also a similar sense of joyously unrestrained creativity. We imagine that at least part of this is down to the influence of producer Daniel Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never, whose own productions have been some of our favorites of recent years.
The Horrors — Primary Colours
Producer: Geoff Barrow
Similarly, the Horrors’ second album was startlingly good in comparison to the relatively uninteresting Misfits pastiche of their debut Strange House. Portishead’s Geoff Barrow was one of several producers to feature on Primary Colours, making it yet another fruit of his fertile post-Third renaissance period.
John Cale — Hobosapiens
Producer: Lemon Jelly
We waxed lyrical last week about how much we like John Cale’s new record, but while we have indeed been enjoying Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood, it still pales in comparison to the majesty of this late-career stroke of genius. This record found Cale working with production duo Lemon Jelly and also embracing the joys of the then-cutting-edge ProTools software, and the results were spectacularly good (as, indeed, were the songs — they were the best Cale had written in decades). It still sounds hyper-modern nearly a decade later.
Liars — WIXIW
Producer: Daniel Miller (aka The Normal)
A strong contender for the title of our favorite album of 2012, this record found Liars working with Mute Records founder Daniel Miller, who you may or may not know by his recording moniker The Normal. Miller’s short but hugely influential discography basically defined the template for what’d come to be called synthpop — minimalist, brutalist sounds, the DIY aesthetic of punk transferred to the world of the synth — and you can certainly hear echoes of it in the vintage analog synth sounds that abound on WIXIW.
Arctic Monkeys — Humbug
Producer: James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco (and Josh Homme, weirdly)
There’s no discernible electronic influence here beyond the general slickness of the production, but that in and of itself was something of a dramatic step for Arctic Monkeys, considering the rough-edged DIY sound of their previous work. The band clearly liked what Ford brought to the table, too, because they worked with him again on last year’s Suck It and See.
The Kills — Midnight Boom
Similarly, it’s not like the Kills went dance with this record, but the subtle change from abrasive punk-influenced seamy rock ‘n’ roll to a somewhat more refined and polished sound worked wonders, both commercially and critically.
Producer: Brian Eno
Sneer all you want, but if you only know The Unforgettable Fire from mega-single “Pride (in the Name of Love)” — which could well have been a cut from this record’s predecessor War — the rest of it may well surprise you. Its lush textures and air of relative restraint were definite departures for U2, and its subtle atmospherics had Eno’s influence stamped all over them.
Happy Mondays — Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches
Producer: Paul Oakenfold
Given that the glory days of Factory Records and the Madchester scene were essentially about marrying the worlds of dance music and guitar music, it’s unsurprising that the era found soon-to-be superstar DJ Paul Oakenfold working with a variety of guitar-wielding contemporaries. The best example, of course, is Happy Mondays’ 1990 classic, wherein Oakenfold shared production duties with Steve Osborne and created a sound that’d be a staple in indie discos for the next two decades.
Beck — Odelay
Producer: The Dust Brothers
The genre-hopping sounds of Beck’s breakthrough album can be attributed at least in part to the influence of hip hop-focused production duo The Dust Brothers. The album’s general air of eclecticism is a rather fine example of the good things that can happen when genres collide and meld together into something new.
Danger Mouse/Sparklehorse/David Lynch — Dark Night of the Soul
Producer: Danger Mouse
Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton has flirted with rock sounds plenty of times over the years — he’s also made records for Beck and The Black Keys, among others — but this collaboration with David Lynch and the late Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse remains our favorite (even if listening to it does make us sad in the light of Linkous’s tragic suicide a couple of months before the record got a belated official release.)