Thursday, February 02, 2006

Mocking the Married

Casey Dorrell

Is there anything more insufferably trendy in contemporary music than female-male duos? Maybe. What about when they're married? Probably not. Sure, there's far bigger trends in music right now (insert howling at the moon here) but there's a special category of irritation that's occupied by married indie duos. They almost inevitably fall into being that far-too-cute couple who share everything, including clothing and sentences. They probably giggle in unison too. If you've ever heard the band Hexes and Ohs in conversation or known a couple that wore matching outfits, you know what I mean.

Still, as Calum noted yesterday or I pointed out a few weeks prior, married bands aren't inherently untalented. Being a matrimonial duo is usually less a gimmick than it is just one of many details that describe a given band. It's just that it also happens to be that one tangible factor that fans and critics latch onto. I'd hate to break with the trend, so I won't. Still, the bands vary . . . a lot. Some married duos' stage shows reflect their couple status, others do not. Some married duos are good, others are not. I'll attempt to differentiate for you.

I've created a complex mathematical theory, given each aspect (critical success, popularity, originality, likelihood of divorce, etc.) of every married duo a scientifically arrived upon numerical value, then I divided those numbers by themselves and added my own entirely arbitrary number. The result is this list. In celebration of puppy dogs, marriage, and all things saccharine sweet, I present to you "Mocking the Married," Mocking Music's definitive list to married bands that matter (to me).

Honourable Mention

The White Stripes
Jack and Meg are only making the list because someone would whine if they didn't. They aren't getting numbered because their possible previous marriage is so shrouded in contrived 2002 media mystery, that we've all heard enough about it long ago. If you somehow aren't familiar with this band, try google.

Dead Last

16. Starberry
In last place we have the band, 'Starberry'. They are a "cute" married duo, too cute. Their "aww shucks" bio reads, "boy meets girl, they fall in love, they get married, they start a hot new rock band. It appears that the male plays drums and the female does, well, everything else - kinda like a reversed White Stripes. They released two albums which are remarkable only for the fact that all their songs are the same song, and that song isn't all that interesting to begin with. Still, it should be noted that there are maaany married bands that didn't make the list at all (hint: hit up cdbaby)

Back of the Pack

The female vocalist sounds like a narcoleptic Tori Amos who's ditched the instruments in favour of organic synth. Although her voice clearly recalls Amos, she never hits the explosive peaks the former is known for. The music itself is an interesting mix of traditional instruments like the acoustic guitar with subtle electronic overdubs. Enjoyable but maybe too safe. Not ethereal enough to be haunting, yet not rough enough to be exciting. Then again, the couple named an album after Phillip Pullman's His Dark Matters trilogy, so they rock either way.

14. Annabella
On their latest album, this band cheated. They had so many contributions from a third person, they've practically ditched being a duo. This is a radio-friendly alt-pop group from which you thankfully won't hear any husband-wife traded vocal kitsch. In fact, with layered female vocals you'd be forgiven for mistaking the band for an all-female group. What the Innocence Mission might sound like if they stole lyrics from Eisley.

13. Ever
I used to have an online friend, Chris, who lived in Dresden, Germany (presumably, he still does). He listened to music, constantly. He also played a lot of video games. Naturally, not wanting to eschew the stereotype, his music of choice was electronica. Ever are an American married band with a "large" German following. They play electronic music. As far as I can tell, the husband, Jesse, does most of the mixing and his wife does the vocals. The band, at times, remind me of early Nine Inch Nails, but the visceral quality is dropped in favour of Enya-enducing New Age.

The Almost-Contenders

12. Moggs
The Moggs debut is called "The White Belt is Not Enough" which is clever, but they still look dangerously cute to be calling out the indie scene on its superficiality. Maybe that's superficial of me. Really, Moggs are quite good. The band shares the home-town of Chicago with the married duo, The Like Young, they have a lot more in common with Sonic Youth, echoing Kim Gordon's deadpan vocals and the bands' tendency toward experimentation. The band has received good press, but the vocals may simply not be eccentric enough, the sound not twee enough, to cut it with yupsters. Solution? Name change: Wolf Moggs . . . or maybe Moggsly Wolfman?

11. Sun Hill
As my list goes on, it's becoming apparent that the most natural genre for married indie duos is pop, and that usually means twee. Australian duo Sun Hill, which was comprised of Nick Coppack on guitar and vocals and his wife, Victoria Hannan on keyboards, glockenspiel, and melodica, were very twee. For indie cred they'd covered Magnetic Fields and Postal Service but, alas, not Morrissey. Sun Hill exuded a sort of childlike wonder not unlike Boy Least Likely To or Architecture in Helsinki but also showed a quieter side not always evident in the aforementioned bands. And yes, that was all written in the past tense. Sun Hill dissolved before ever releasing an album, but rest assured, they're still married, and currently run their own independent label.

10. Avoidance Theory
Like most bands with lo-fi acts, Avoidance Theory have suffered being compared to pretty much every successful indie band out there: Grandaddy, Sparkle Horse, Belle and Sebastian, Elliot Smith, Yo La Tengo, Low, Rilo Kiley, etc. Or maybe all the comparisons are flattering. Either way, most of them aren't particularly apt. The only group I heard in Avoidance Theory before reading their exhaustive lists was Grandaddy. And since Grandaddy is dead, this is a very good thing. Like Grandaddy, they deliver whispered vocals backed by simple acoustic instruments with ample electronic overdubbing that somehow never sounds forced. Sadly they don't sing about robots.

9. Quasi
Quasi have somehow mastered being simultaneously both obscure and not at all obscure. The band itself doesn't recieve much press yet their name is known. How's this? It helps that the (now divorced) duo are Janet Weiss, the drummer from Sleater-Kinney, and Sam Coomes, best known from Heatmiser. None of their songs are exceptional, but they're all solid, playful, and cynical in the vein of Pavement. Despite the divorce, Quasi continue to put out new music and have a new album set for release on Touch and Go Records this March. This band makes it higher on the list for two reasons: first, because as we get into more talented bands, my numbering becomes more and more arbitrary, and second, because this duo may never have any full-on hits, but it never has any complete misses either.

Blue Ribbon Winners

Part of the appeal of this band is undeniably superficial. The married couple of French (Mi) and Finnish (L'au) descent live and record in small log cabin (pictured on their self-titled debut) in a remote area of Finland. Their music, the sonic equivalent of their surroundings in which they make use of little more than an acoustic guitar and duel hushed vocals, is incredibly sparse. The recent hype around this band isn't undeserved but might be a little over the top given their limited output so far.

7. Hexes and Ohs
Awww.. aren't they cute?! Actually, this bands is probably the most likely to end up on the next O.C. mix. They have that perfect mixture of synth, glitchy electronic bass, and cute boy-girl vocals that's sure to find it's way into every converse-wearing kid's iPod Nano. Did I mention they're from Montreal? Ryan finds out his ex-girlfriend has a baby that might be his, Marissa jumps from a beach-side cliff, Seth does drugs, Hexes and Ohs' 'Alive Until Saturday Night' plays. Recommended for people sick of waiting for the next Postal Service album, who will be able to stomach every O.C. kid listening to the same thing in a few months' time.

6. Viva Voce
With dense, beautiful instrumentation, it's no surprise that Viva Voce were previously label-mates of Mr. Indie 2005, Sufjan Stevens. Somehow they manage to create wonderfully complex songs that feature intricate back-up vocals, a plethora of carefully instruments yet sound like they're bedroom recordings, which they are, almost. The married couple behind Viva Voce record all their albums at home in their own studio (read: living room). If you're a mp3 blog hopper, you likely downloaded a Tah-Dahs song called "Mix Tape = Love" in 2005. Viva Voce already had a song with that title. And it was just as good. Somehow, despite being hailed by several publications, this band is largely overlooked in the insular world of music blogs, which is ironic given that Viva Voce is Italian for "word of mouth".

5. Mates of State
Mates of State are, undeniably, the biggest and most well-known married indie duo in the scene right now. While their organ-based indie-pop definitely merits attention for its often infectious songs, their tendency to sing out of key (think Tegan and Sara) when performing live is sometimes off-putting. This band relies on a childlike enthusiasm and, often, childlike singing. If that sounds like an insult, it's not. If nothing else, the Mates lend themselves to fun with alliteration, "Mates of State Make Marvelously Matrimonial Music".

4. The Kills
It's bands like this that fill up our lexicon with music genres. They're definitively Blues-punk, but I'm sure they're also post-something too. The now divorced duo of Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince sport the ridiculous monikers of W and Hotel respectively. This band doesn't use their previous marriage as a marketing gimmick. In fact, I was beginning to believe that I'd fabricated their marriage as I looked through google until I finally hit upon an interview in which Hince, er, Hotel, mentions it. This band is probably the least cute of all the married duos. They opt, instead, to create a sound soaked in grime and sex. While they might end up on an O.C. mix some day, they're more fitting as a soundtrack to stealing an indie kids' lunch money.

3. Rosebuds
Rosebuds weren't always a married duo. On their first two albums they were a trio, though the third member was different on both and as far as I know there was no polygamy involved (another list). Even now, supporting their third album, they often enlist a third member to perform live. Still, they're technically a duo and they're definitely married. The Rosebuds used to be more a twee-happy band more like Sun Hill, but they've since begun exploring their darker emotional side and, for the most part, it works. But I can't help but miss the feigned innocence. Still, songs like 'Hold Hands and Fight' show that despite the attitude change, the band's kept their biggest asset: the often insanely catchy vocals of Ivan Howard.


2. The Handsome Family
I don't like country music. I offer no apologies for that. I'm sure a lot of it is really awesome but I find the twang of most traditional country insufferable, and the slick production and contrived emotion of pop-country unlistenable. Still, alt-country isn't so bad - I love early Wilco and almost everything that Jeff Tweedy's been involved in. For that reason alone, I have to like The Handsome Family with whom Tweedy's played with several times, live and in studio. This is made a lot easier by the fact that The Handsome Family create startling moving songs like "Weightless Again". The "family" splits the work of creating music equally with husband, Brett Sparks, writing the music, and his wife, Rennie Sparks, penning the lyrics. The resulting songs are more than a really good argument for alt-country. They're dark, brooding, eerie songs that somehow come off as charming and nostalgic.

Grand Prize Winner

1. The Like Young
If you've read this blog at all, The Like Young topping this list was probably a given. Yet another Chicago based duo, this band manages to be a married indie-pop group, while avoiding being cute. A cursory look at any of the pop-based outfits on the list shows that this is no easy feat. Formerly of the indie group, Wolfie, Joe and Amanda create music that sounds like Pinkerton-era Weezer with Elvis Costello on lead vocals. Expect angry fragmented lyrics presented with twee that's actually edgy. And no, there's no prize except my respect and admiration. Cheap.

Starberry - Take the World
Endless - Simply Sleep
Endless - Lee Miller
Annabella - Dragonfly Derby
Annabella - La Ciudad
Ever - Stay (Go Home and Go to Bed Mix)
Moggs - Intergalactic Marriages
Moggs - Disco
Sun Hill - Music For Modern Lovers
Sun Hill - We Don't Sleep
Avoidance Theory - Emotion Sickness
Avoidance Theory - Promise to the Refridgerator
Quasi - Drunken Tears
Quasi - Raining
Mi & L'au - They Marry
Mi & L'au - How
Hexes and Ohs - Alive Until Saturday Night
Hexes and Ohs - This and Other Distances
Viva Voce - Alive With Pleasure
Viva Voce - Wrecking Ball
Mates of State - Whiner's Bio (Live KEXP)
Mates of State - Goods (All in Your Head) (Live KEXP)
The Kills - The Good Ones (Morgan Page Bootleg Mix)
The Kills - No Wow (MSTRKRFT Remix)
The Kills - Monkey 23
Rosebuds - You Better Get Ready
Rosebuds - Hold Hands and Fight
Rosebuds - Outnumbered (Live KEXP) - via So Much Silence
The Handsome Family - Weightless Again
The Handsome Family - The Sad Milkman
The Handsome Family - The Song of a Hundred Toads
The Like Young - For Money or Love
The Like Young - Worry a Lot
The Like Young - Little Minds (Demo)

Hexes and Ohs - Goodbye Friend, Welcome Lover
Viva Voce - The Heat Can Melt Your Brain
Mates of State - Bring it Back
The Kills - No Wow
Rosebuds - Birds Make Good Neighbours
The Handsome Family - Through the Trees
The Like Young - So Serious

Today's State of Affairs
You Like the Like Young
The Like Young: A Long Review for a Short Band

Comments on "Mocking the Married"


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (2/2/06 9:55 am) : 

what about the arcade fire?


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (2/2/06 10:17 am) : 

Yo La Tengo?


Blogger wwjblog said ... (2/2/06 10:31 am) : 

are we supposed to put ones that didnt make the list here? is that what we are supposed to do? huh? what about over the rhine?


Anonymous Another anonymous person said ... (2/2/06 1:52 pm) : 

Duo: Music. A duet, especially TWO performers singing or playing together. (

Thus, the Arcade Fire and Yo La Tengo do not qualify as duos in the strictest sense of the word.


Blogger Casey Dorrell said ... (2/2/06 2:39 pm) : 

he he, Honestly, Arcade Fire was on the honourable mention list and even had a little write-up (mostly because calum sent me some choice mp3s), but I deleted it since it was long enough without adding bands that were clearly NOT duos.

Damn you Jesus! Everyone else can point out ones that I missed but your omniscience thing makes it unfair.


Blogger Dodge said ... (2/2/06 8:13 pm) : 

great post either way...


Blogger Styeiles said ... (3/2/06 12:42 am) : 

Dood thanks for the great post its been awhile since Ive seen such an entertaining post as this one...great stuff here..CN


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (9/2/06 8:52 pm) : 


The bassists have changed over time...


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (9/2/06 9:16 pm) : 

what about the innocence mission's don and karen?


Blogger Casey Dorrell said ... (9/2/06 9:17 pm) : 

Low's still not a duo, though they are pretty awesome. And missing innocence mission is even more odd than missing over the rhine.

Any others?


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (10/2/06 11:27 pm) : 

So like.... where's the Stars in this list? Ok even if Torquil and Amy are divorced.. I still think they deserve an honorable mention.. I mean even their divorce songs are cute. In a knife to the heart but I still just wanna see you happy kind of way..


Blogger Casey Dorrell said ... (11/2/06 12:48 am) : 

I dunno, since the stars are neither married nor a duo . . .


Anonymous *starberry* said ... (12/2/06 8:16 pm) : 

saw the band mentioned in your blog.
rock on.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (21/2/06 12:52 pm) : 

we didn't really cheat, just a few extra parts contributed by our friends, we do perform as a two-piece live. thanks though for the mention. we feel honored to be in the same article with many of the bands you covered. by the way, touring with your wife is so much better compared to touring with a van full of stinky guys... tim/annabella


Anonymous book club said ... (23/2/06 7:27 pm) : 


you'll probably want to know that Book Club Records (the label run by ex husband-and-wife band Sun Hill) have released a married couples compilation called Pop The Question.

mock away! (also available at



Anonymous Anonymous said ... (16/3/06 2:37 pm) : 

what about frog eyes? casey is married to the drummer.


Blogger Casey Dorrell said ... (16/3/06 3:09 pm) : 

I love getting comments . . . but, this is a post about "duos". See the above snarky comment by someone else defining that term.

That said, with Grayson gone, I think they're down to being a trio, so they're almost there.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (24/7/06 1:26 am) : 

ARRRG!!! Label your songs correctly, w/ artist & song title!


Blogger Casey Dorrell said ... (24/7/06 12:20 pm) : 

ARRRG!!! Please brush up on your basic internet knowledge. Check the links. The ones which are hosted by us are ALL LABELLED. The ones which are not, may or may not be labelled. There's nothing we can do about that.

Contact the bands that are hosting their own songs and bitch to them that their FREE offerings are poorly labelled.

(i.e. fuck off)


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