The obvious: a “guest vocal” is when a band has someone who isn’t in the band come in to record vocals for part of a song. The premise of this list: when band members (who don’t usually sing leads) step up front and take the mic for a moment.
Like Iron Chic in Fall 2008, Vacation in Summer 2010, or Tenement for (what seems like fuckin’) years, Potboiler were one of those bands that most kids didn’t give a fuck (or hadn’t even heard) about but that a small handful of weirdos were losing their fucking shit over. The difference between Potboiler and those other bands is that Potboiler broke up before everyone caught on. Get Bent was a different story. Comprised of Potboiler’s lead vocalist/guitarist and drummer, Jared Santiago and Mike Vlad, plus Andy Dennison (guitarist of Red & Blue and The State Lottery) and Mike Dumps (bassist/vocalist of Down in the Dumps and Jonesin’), Get Bent’s debut 7-inch, split released by Dead Broke and Dirt Cult, caught on fast. They followed that up with a split 7-inch on Kiss of Death with JCJB. Each band only contributed a single song to the record but Get Bent’s was even better than anything on their EP. Up to this point, guitarists Jared and Andy were the only voices we had heard up front and center, and in the first half of “Face Mush,” that’s still true. But when Mike Dumps pops out in the lead midway through the second verse, with his cement-mixer-gravel-fuck of a voice… it’s fucking glorious. The raw power and menace of Mike’s voice contrasted with the (relatively) softer, smoother voices of the other members makes for one of the most beautiful contrasts in the history of recorded music. And I fucking mean that. It’s awesome.
In the years that I was fucked up worst on heroin (2010-2012) and in/out of treatment (2012-2013), I fell a little behind on new bands and records. I knew that P.S. Eliot had broken up and I knew that its members had disbursed and formed Waxahatchee and Swearin’ but it wasn’t until a few months ago that I got around to listening to either band. I wasn’t excited enough to sit down and really listen to the Swearin’ record (which is awesome by the way) but I put it on my iPhone and the songs would come up on shuffle. On day, I’m driving around somewhere, “Just” is playing, and – out of nowhere – a familiar voice comes through… “What the fuck? This is great… Why does this sound so familiar? Oh shit – it’s the kid from Big Soda! They got the kid from Big Soda to come in and sing a part! Whatever happened to that band?” Well, as I figured out after hearing a few more Swearin’ songs, what happened is that Swearin’ didn’t get him to come in and do one vocal part – he’s in the band. Like Mike Dumps in Get Bent though, Kyle Gilbride’s voice in Swearin’ is mostly relegated to back-ups. Which is – you know – fine. Singer/guitarist Allison Crutchfield takes the lead 95% of the time and she’s fucking phenomenal. (For especially compelling evidence of this, check out her vocal performance in “Kenosha;” it’s lazy, spiteful, and cooler than Miles fucking Davis). So that’s pretty decent consolation for only getting to hear Gilbride pipe up occasionally. And it makes it all that much more profound when he does and especially on “Just.” The chorus of “I just wanted you to love me” (sung by Crutchfield) is made exponentially more powerful by Gilbride’s delivery late in the second verse. He sounds so fucking whiny and bratty in the most wonderful way possible. When I sing along, “Overslept and I’m alone a lot… no one’s asking,” with him, I feel like I’m simultaneously crying, laughing, in love with everything, and ready to fall apart. It’s that emotive.
Rational Anthem used to be a four-piece and in their first year, it wasn’t Noelle Stolp or Chris Hembrough at the wheel. Lead vocals, as well as songwriting, were primarily the domain of (now) ex-member Alex Heil. So when Alex quit the band in late 2008, the other kids had a little bit of a logistical problem. For their first performance following their demo and the departure of their frontman, Rational Anthem recorded a single song for the first installment in the Dangerous Intersections 7-inch series. Noelle wrote the song but it was Chris who took on the role of lead vocalist. Chris sings leads on a lot of Rational’s songs these days but back when the band recorded “Of Kids in Cars With Windows Up,” he didn’t have much of a clue what he was doing and he sounds like a totally different person than the guy you’ve heard on any of their LPs. (Fun fact: Chris was so unconfident in his vocal abilities that Noelle took over on leads for the next few years and in their first recording session after “Of Kids in Cars,” Chris asked me to sing all the back-ups so he wouldn’t have to, despite the fact that I’m not (and have never been) a member of the band). I don’t know how Chris feels about that recording these days but I loved it then and I love it now. He’s so scratchy and strained and rough and fragile and it’s so much higher than he sings now – almost squeaky at times. It’s a little bit John Brown Battery and a little bit A Radio With Guts and it’s totally unlike any performance Chris would ever give after he finally stepped back up to the mic on 2012’s Sensitivity Training. The song is a wonderful little time capsule of the band in flux, trying to figure themselves out at a time when most others would have just thrown in the towel and started from scratch.
These aren’t ranked / listed in any particular order and I’ve got a few more I could have written about but these three are definitely some of my absolute favorites. Whether you knew ’em before or not, I hope you enjoy ’em.