2018 came and went without another #1 album by The National or Bon Iver, but it did produce something almost as good: the best “The National collaborates with another group” collaboration album yet. Introducing Big Red Machine, the self-titled debut album from Justin Vernon (aka Mr. Bon Iver) and Aaron Dessner (lead music writer for The National).
It’s almost as if Vernon and Dessner sat down and said “let’s make a Radiohead album.” Blending digital artifacts and hypnotic beats, subtle orchestration and keyboards, and an affected falsetto floating over the top, this is the best Radiohead album the band never made. Don’t get me wrong, I love Bon Iver and The National, and I love what Vernon and Dessner have done together. I’m pretty sure this album was made just for me. At times quiet and wispy, it draws you in like only the best novel can. Then, suddenly, it’s punctuated by staccato rhythms and nonsensical lyrics that cause you to sit up straight in your chair.
Dessner and Vernon’s collaboration started during the making of Dark Was The Night, the amazing Red Hot compilation album that the Dessner brothers assembled back in 2009 (#10 that year), when Dessner apparently cold-messaged Vernon on MySpace, having never met before. The two artists met for the first time at the Radio City Music Hall event surrounding the Dark Was The Night album (and featured in the video on the link of that #10 album in 2009). It took them nine years and collaborating in many ways on many things (including starting a project called PEOPLE, from which this album is by far the biggest output to date).
Yes, the project is named after the 1970’s Cincinnati Reds teams that won the World Series four times in seven years. The Dessner brothers grew up in Cincinnati, and were born right smack dab in the middle of that run (1976). If you even remotely like Bon Iver or the National, or Radiohead for that matter, then you’ll like this album. Perhaps you’ve not heard of it; thankfully your drought is now over.
14. I’ll Be Your Girl by The Decemberists
15. The More I Sleep the Less I Dream by We Were Promised Jetpacks
16. Joy as an Act of Resistance by IDLES
17. Hell-On by Neko Case
18. Superorganism by Superorganism
19. Living in Extraordinary Times by James
20. Thank You for Today by Death Cab for Cutie
21. Black Panther: The Album by Kendrick Lamar
22. Suspiria (Music for the Luca Guadagnino Film) by Thom Yorke
23. Merrie Land by The Good, the Bad & the Queen
24. Room 25 by Noname
25. WARM by Jeff Tweedy
26. God's Favorite Customer by Father John Misty
27. Vessel by Frankie Cosmos
28. For Ever by Jungle
29. Twerp Verse by Speedy Ortiz
30. Remain in Light by Angélique Kidjo
31. This One’s for the Dancer & This One’s for the Dancer’s Bouquet by Moonface