Ranking Rock Musicians’ Electronic Side Projects from Best to Worst

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Things that we never expected to hear: Okkervil River’s Will Sheff has an electronic side project… and it’s actually quite good. Sheff released a song under the name Lovestreams earlier this week, and we’ve been rather enjoying it here at Flavorpill central, despite initial reservations about what in god’s name it might sound like. The track makes Sheff the latest in a long-ish line of guitar-wielding types who’ve decided that they’re rather like to twiddle knobs on the side, with wildly varying degrees of success. With that in mind, we thought we’d amuse ourselves looking at some such artists, ranking them from the very best to the very, very worst.

Gorillaz

With Damon Albarn involved in so many projects these days, it’s easy to forget how remarkable Gorillaz sounded when they appeared in 1998. The idea of the ultra-English singer of Blur working with the likes of Dan the Automator and Del the Funkee Homosapien was a pretty remarkable one, but what was even more remarkable was the fact that it worked so well.

The Postal Service

Honestly, it was worth it for “Such Great Heights.” (Even if, gasp, we do like Iron and Wine’s cover better.)

2ManyDJs

The Dewaele brothers work as Soulwax by day and as 2ManyDJs by night, and their seminal display of turntable wizardry, 2002’s gleefully eclectic As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2,, is still a landmark in the mashup genre. Without it there’d be no Girl Talk (whether that’s a good thing or not is up to you), and a decade later, it still makes for pretty thrilling listening.

Lovestreams

On his website, Will Sheff describes this as “a project … I’d wanted to do for years and years … an album by myself and for myself, an album that doesn’t owe anything to music I made before.” And as if that wasn’t enough, Sheff’s gone all internet — the cover art is a vaguely psychedelic animated GIF, and the rather morose lyrics (which you can read in full here) include, amongst other things, a use of the word “pageview.” Remarkably, the results are unexpectedly great, even if (like your correspondent) you’re not a fan of Okkervil River.

Volcano Choir

Of course, Sheff isn’t the only indie-folk type to dabble in electronic music. Justin “Bon Iver” Vernon made this ambient, electronic-flavored record with the members of Jagjaguwar labelmates Collections of Colonies of Bees, and as with Sheff’s work, it’s really rather good. The project actually pre-dated For Emma, Forever Ago — the collaborators has been working together since 2005, although they only got around to recording their material in 2008, by which time Vernon’s solo career was heading rapidly for the stratosphere.

Broken Bells

Sadly, it appears James Mercer’s glory days are behind him — Chutes Too Narrow still gets a fairly regular workout chez Flavorpill, but everything after that has basically been a case of diminishing returns. With that said, this collaboration with Danger Mouse was a whole lot more exciting than one might have expected — it’s interesting how exploring new-ish sounds can rejuvenate one’s creative muse.

Dee Dee King

Depending on your point of view, Dee Dee Ramone’s short-lived and entirely bewildering excursion into hip hop is either so bad it’s good or just really, really bad. Still, at least it wasn’t actively offensive, unlike the rest of this list. Take a deep breath, now…

Methods of Mayhem

Tommy Lee. And the hitherto unknown DJ Aero, who apparently “rose from the ashes of Los Angeles’ early ’90s rap scene.” Phoenixes have a lot to answer for.

JDevil

Remember when Korn discovered dubstep? (Or, at least, the sound that gets called dubstep these days?) So does singer Jonathan Davis, who took his newfound love of the genre a step further with this “EDM collective,” which also featured like-minded producers Sluggo and Tyler Blue. So what could such a revolutionary cross-genre collaboration possibly sound like? If you’re feeling brave, click “play” above. At least they keep their clothes on.

Skrillex

Still, at least Davis didn’t end up commanding six figures for a show. Things have worked out well for the former Sonny Moore, who started dabbling in DJing after his career making middle-of-the-road screamo stuff plateaued in mind-2008. For the rest of us… not so much, eh?