5 great side projects

Ah, the dreaded side project. Usually seen as the rock-star's vanity band, they either tend to be average or god-awful. But here's some that's worth your while.

Loose Fur - Loose FurLoose Fur – Loose Fur: this is a group that comprises singer/songwriter Jeff Tweedy and drummer Glen Kotche (both of Wilco) and sometime Sonic Youth member, solo artist and producer Jim O'rourke. Having produced Wilco's seminal "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot", they all decided to group together and make a nice little album (there's only 6 tracks).

the thing that makes this interesting is the mix between O'rourke's avant garde leanings and Tweedys more traditional song writing. Both songwriters manage to bring out the strengths of each other's style. "Laminated Cat" is a electronic, krautrock-ish slow burner, whereas "Elegant Transaction" is an acoustic, almost county track, that develops into a banjo plucking almost airy closing melody. "Liquidation Totale" is a more rockier, instrumental track, and "You Were Wrong" is maybe the most traditional song on the album. "Chinise Apple" is another acoustic track that builds to a woozy, dream like middle section, before closing.

Probably the stand out is the 10 minutes long, "So Long". It's a difficult track to like immediately; it doesn't really have a melody and the drums and guitars are completely out of time and tune. But if you stick with it past it's 3 verses and chorus', it all comes together 5 minutes in, when the piano comes in and the guitars all merge to finish off a beautiful melody. All in all, some of the songs on the album go on a bit to much but the album isn't a boring one; it's one to get lost in.

Silver Mt. ZionA Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-La-La Band – Born Into Trouble As The Sparks Fly Upwards: Silver Mt. Zion (as I'm going to be calling them from now on) are a side project formed by Godspeed You Black Emperor guitarist Efrim (no surnames in that band), but despite the groups' similarities (long instrumental songs, even longer album titles), Silver Mt Zion do things a little differently. Instead of long patient build-ups to frequent crescendos of noise, Silver Mt Zion create more mood based tracks that neither start nor end, but just seem to exist.

Opener "Sisters & Brothers…" takes 5 minutes before a piano unites the electronic sounds and guitar that's been meandering before it. "this Gentle Heart" is hardly there either. "Built Then Burn" has a strangely moving monologue that gives way to a slow string build up that never really reaches it's peak. That's not he case with "Could've Moved Mountains", which takes almost 8 minutes to get to a point where the melody reaches it's crux.

The best tracks on the album are the penultimate two; "Triumph of our Tired Eyes" features the only vocals on the album, and creates a sense of genuine melancholy. But the best track is "C'mon C'mom (Lose Loose Endings)" which build and build into a flurry of white noise. It's the real memorable track from the album as it's the one that's direct and frankly, loud.

Team Sleep - Team Sleep

Team Sleep – Team Sleep: this album has been a long time coming. Deftones vocalist, Chino Moreno had been planning a side project with his childhood friend, guitarist Mark Wilkinson. This was after the Deftones's third album White Pony in 2001. It took until 2005 for the record to be released and it's about a far away from Chino's work with Deftones as you can imagine. Where Deftones use electronics to boost the atmosphere of their post-metal, Team Sleep sounds like a completely electronic album. Drum machine and synths make up the instrumentation along with Chino's distorted vocals. If there was any doubt that he (along with Deftones) weren't part of the moronic nu-metal scene, then this album is it.

"Ataraxia" has a fizing bass sound and a great sounding piano loop, it's like a heavier sounding Massive Attack. "Your Skull Is Red" has more hazy atmospherics, an almost My Bloody Valentine-ish feedback melded to scattershot drums. "Paris Arm" "Delorian" and "Starting At The Queen" are all great instrumentals, and allow the band to flex their musical muscles; "Staring at the Queen" is almost verging on Aphex Twin-esque glitch-tronica.

There's some duets here to; Mary Timony lends vocals to the sparse "Tomb Of Liega" and also the beat driven "King Diamond" which sounds like it could hve been almost produced by Pharell Williams. Almost. "Team Sleep" is another of what I like to call "mood albums"; no big vocal or musical "high points" but the album has mood that's consistant throught it's 16 tracks.

RaconteursThe Raconteurs – Broken Boy Soldiers: Jack White has always kinda bugged me. Recnetly my buddy Ian send me a challenge in an e-mail: "why Jack White is rubbish". Initially I didn't want to reply, I mean the White Stripes are great! Ah, but Jack White, the digital hating, analogue purist guy who wants to be a bluesman living in the 1930s and still tells everyone that Meg is his sister? Christ, even Alex Kapranos stopped lying about his age after the first Franz Ferdinand album. The man has his faults (I've not even mentioned the Coke advert or the Jason Stollsteimer punch up), but his music is great and the Raconteurs album shows that he's not bound by the rules he's set himself with the White Stripes.

The Racounteurs features White, fellow Detroit songwriter Brendan Benson and the rhythm section of the Greenhornes, Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler. Together they're a muscular rock band that shed the roots of their garage-blues rock origins. Opener and single "Steady As She Goes" has a big, clear meaty riff, "Hands" also sounds like a 60's power pop classic with more solid guitar work. "Broken Boy Soldier" has a great folksy sounding riff with scratchy vocals, "Together" is a Beatles-ish singlong and the first Brendand Benson lead vocal. In truth, the album would be stronger if Jack White did the vocals throughout; he's a stronger vocalist and it's Brendon's pop tastes that I'm sure came up with the catchy hooks on the album.

But therein lies the crux; there's maybe a bit too much effort to make the album sound like an collaboration of equals, rather than "Jack White and his pals" album. But that wouldn't have been so bad, would it?

A Perfect Circle - Mer De NomsA Perfect Circle – Mer De Noms: A Perfect Circle is another side project from one of my favourite bands: Maynard James Keenan took a break from Tool after a legal dispute meant they couldn't release any material for 5 years. So, he teamed up with Smashing Pumpkins guitar tech, Billy Howerdel and formed A Perfect Circle. Despite being the singer and songwriter behind Tool, Maynard sings Billy's songs which makes A Perfect Circle a bit less obtuse than the somtimes puzzling Tool.

Indeed A Perfect Circle have the one quality you can say Tool don't have: APC can make a short, catchy radio friendly song, at least one that you'll hear on a rock station. Indeed "The Hollow" and 3 "Libras" have great choruses and guitar riffs that instantly stick in your head. "Judith" has some great vocals from MAynard that soar towards the end. "Thinking Of You" is a darker almost slugdey song that has a great bass-led riff. It's not the only dark track, "Rose" has a heavy riff but breaks into a gloomy string section at the end. 

It'd be too easy to think of A Perfect Circle as "Tool-lite", quasi-Tool, the Diet Coke of Tool, but in truth Mer De Noms is a strong album, taking the art rock leanings of groups like Jane's Addicition and the heavyness of (surprise) Tool.

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