Gimme a Chick Singer Every Time
A quick glance at my most recent music purchases reveals a lot of feminine voices. When I first noticed this trend in my music collection, I attributed it to my wife’s influence. She’s a fan of Lady Gaga, Kylie Minogue, Lykke Li and their contemporaries. I’ve developed an ear for their music in addition to the incomparable output of artists like Robyn and Wanda Jackson.
But my taste for female singers goes back further. I play guitar and bass in a folk band with a gifted female vocalist. In fact, 3 of the last 4 gigging bands I’ve been in have had female singers. Their appeal is not limited to one style of music. I like Gillian Welch as much as I like Shara Nelson’s work with Massive Attack, Inara George of The Bird and the Bee (seriously, check those guys out), and even Hayley Williams of Paramore. The ones I’m listening to a lot these days run the stylistic gamut from quirky synthpop to full bore prog-metal.
Kimbra came to my attention as she did to most Americans’, via Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know.” (However, unbeknownst to me until recently, she appeared on a hidden “bonus” track on As Tall As Lions’ brilliant 2009 album You Can’t Take It with You.) Turns out she is quite the talented solo artist. Her debut LP, Vows, was released in the US last month. It’s an eclectic collection of songs that vary wildly from neo-soul (“Something In the Way You Are”, “Old Flame”) to drum-machined, bleepy synthpop (“Cameo Lover”). She co-wrote nearly every song on the album and co-produced more than half. Her flair for beats and minimal production give the album a very classic sound. Listeners who found Amy Winehouse’s ersatz-jazz stylings (and insufferable attitude) lacking might find what they’re looking for in Kimbra. The production is undeniably modern, but Kimbra’s vocals are firmly rooted in the genre’s great past. And she certainly knows her way around the gadgets as you can see in this barn-burnin’ solo performance featuring looped beatboxing, scat vocals, and iPad keyboard.
I’ve written before about how strange circumstances can lead you to discover new music. Lights came onto my radar via my appreciation of cosplay, or “costume play,” in which fans of comics, movies, and manga create and wear elaborate, detailed costumes based on their favorite characters. (I don’t have the time, money, or talent to engage in the practice myself, but I marvel at the efforts of those that do. And it’s especially cool on those rare occasions when I actually recognize a costume; seriously, these folks are into some obscure stuff!) But I digress… Lights is the stage name of a Canadian songwriter and musician whose epic singalong “Banner” single was featured in a cosplay video I saw on YouTube. Her music has a slightly moodier vibe than Kimbra’s, with a lot more synth sounds and drum machines. (The synth-bass on “Flux and Flow” will melt your face off!) She has an earlier album which I have not yet heard, but 2011′s Siberia is full of high-energy electropop with her slightly childlike voice sailing over it. Lights’ YouTube channel has a series of videos wherein she gives the viewer a glimpse into the recording process for many of the songs on Siberia, including some personal insights into her artistic process and vision. She seems to have her head on pretty straight for someone who (if you’ll pardon a little ageism) was born the same year Appetite for Destruction came out. And she’s certainly got a better attitude than many of her (sadly, more popular) peers.
Last but not least for this post, I’ll mention a very new acquisition. One so new, in fact, that I haven’t even really had a chance to give the album an honest listen. Look Right Penny is a band so small-time and new to the scene, they don’t even have a Wikipedia entry. Their debut album, Sugar Lane, came out in February 2012. The nearest stylistic analogue I can think of is Flyleaf, but without the Evangelical Christian themes. The genre is decidedly prog-metal, with syncopated drum beats, decidedly modern production, and oodles of riffy shred guitar (accomplished, apparently, by a single guitarist.) And then there’s Mariel Diaz-Carrion’s vocals belted out over top of it all. In this style of music, it’s easy for many feminine (and, frankly, masculine) voices to get, well… shrill and screechy; but Diaz-Carrion, like Flyleaf’s Lacey Sturm, manages a powerful tonality that really fits the riffing and double-bass going on behind it. Unfortunately, Look Right Penny doesn’t have much online that I can link to besides a Facebook page (though you can buy MP3s of their album from Amazon), but I managed to find this odd but effective cover of Cher’s “Believe” (complete with Skrillex-esque breakdown!)