Tone Things Down & Turn Things Up

So the past few posts have harbored a lot of heated discussion about women working in the music industry. Let’s take a step back and tone things down. Because let’s face it- at this point, you’re probably asking yourself: “All she does is rant on and on about inequality in the music industry, but she’s hardly mentioned more than a handful of female musicians. Where are they all?”

And I’m here to answer that in the best way I know how- with a playlist!

  1. I Don’t Smoke – Mitski
    Mitski is gritty and a little hard to understand at times, both in articulation as well as in meaning- but that’s just what makes her so great. Embracing all facets of her femininity, she bridges that gap between delicate and destructive with her resounding, ringing voice that climbs into a range so shrill it pierces not only your eardrums but also your heart. This song is annoyed- at the unnamed subject and their not so typical relationship- and aggressive, which makes for a powerful opener.
  2. Bamboo – Hinds
    Hinds used to be called Deers before they decided to change their name after a band with a similar name almost sued them. Oops. But they’re a group of three highly talented girls from Madrid. And though they perform in English, there are hints of that fiery Spanish charm in their fast-paced, lo-fi tunes. Off their initial EP, “Bamboo” is a lament in its laziest form. And it works so well.
  3. Carousel Ride – Rubblebucket
    Fronted by the uniquely named Annakalmia Traver, Rubblebucket takes everything you know about indie-pop and turns it completely upside-down. They lay down dancey synth tracks underneath Travers’ trailing vocals that grab hold of your attention and refuse to let go, even if you do. Transitioning between a softer sort of light singing and her signature forceful, jazzy bellow, you may catch yourself swaying to their unique sound.
  4. Marry Me – St. Vincent
    After releasing her self-titled album in 2013, St. Vincent and Annie Clark became household names. Her throbbing digitized indie rock acted as musical commentary on the state of the music industry. Her outfits and stage mannerisms took care of the rest. But sweet Annie has been rocking our worlds since long before that. Her first release, Marry Me, shows off a side of St. Vincent- Clark’s adopted stage moniker- we often forget about. Ripe with a bluesy attitude and stripped down vocals and piano, this simpler song is refreshing.
  5. Folding Chair – Regina Spektor
    Aside from being one of the more prominent Jewish women on the scene, Regina Spektor is unique in a multitude of ways. Her bubbly voice is underscored by her boundless talent as a piano player, full of recorded breathing and other vocal imperfections or abnormalities that shock the listener as much as they intrigue them. Never withholding a thing while singing, Regina has mastered what every folk artist does best- the art of storytelling. Each song is a thick narrative, laden with details otherwise deemed boring but made beautiful by her ever-moving lilt.
  6. Bad Self Portraits – Lake Street Dive
    Boston natives Lake Street Dive transport you to some smoky cabaret far away with Rachel Price’s guttural jazzy crooning. Artfully constructed, “Bad Self Portraits” is not only an impeccable introduction to Lake Street Dive, but it also totally encapsulates the perfect blues song: a love lost, coping with it, and sliding, bending, undulating vowels that strike more powerfully than the actual words in the song. Yeah.
  7. Smarter – Eisley
    The cool thing about Eisley is that the band is composed entirely of siblings. The DuPree siblings, to be exact. Okay, I suppose not entirely- Garron, the bassist, is their cousin. But it’s still in the family. And the leading ladies of the DuPree family have composed many beautiful, empowering songs about faith, family, and loyalty. But “Smarter” takes the cake with Sherri’s knowing arrogance as she asserts, “I’m smarter than you think,” to an ex-husband she’s discovered has been cheating on her. All about women being powerful and intelligent, “Smarter” is the break-up song that actually celebrates it from the woman’s perspective, for once, instead of making her the victim.
  8. Fireworks – Radiator Hospital
    This one is kind of cheating, since Radiator Hospital’s lineup is constantly in rotation and on occasion they have a male vocalist. But Maryn Jones has such a unique voice, and its pained forcefulness is entirely fitting for this melancholic ballad.
  9. Waitress – Hop Along
    Speaking of unique voices, Frances Quinlan has that sort of scratchy, kind of startling almost shouting singing voice that seems to be gaining popularity as indie branches out into infinite subgenres. And as Philly keeps giving birth to more and more endlessly talented acts (re Modern Baseball, Kurt Vile, The War On Drugs), Hop Along has latched onto their roots in the City of Brotherly Love and created something enigmatic and furious, propelling their aggressive music outside this universe. A new track from their upcoming release, “Waitress” shows off just what made Hop Along so enjoyable in the first place, but also how they’ve grown and will hopefully continue to grow as a band.
  10. I Do Too – Frankie Cosmos
    Notorious for writing songs that are mere minutes long, Frankie Cosmos has mastered the craft of making things short but sweet. Her lackadaisical attitude is funneled into seemingly mundane songs about the inner thoughts of her toothbrush, or an account of the errands she ran that morning and is matched toe to tip with equally paced guitar, changing as quickly as her mood.
  11. Carey – Joni Mitchell
    There’s much more to Ms. Mitchell than her oh-so-memorable demands to “put up a parking lot”. And while, if you’ve even heard of Joni Mitchell, it’s probably for “A Case Of You”, her hits are as saccharine as her personality, it’s the lesser known songs where she truly shines. “Carey” is restless and in a sense, meandering- perfectly exhibited in its lyrics that jump from place to place. Painted with Mitchell’s wavering soprano, it’s bright and entirely delightful.
  12. Birds & Ships – Natalie Merchant
    This entire album is a gem in its own right, thanks to the talents of Billy Bragg and Jeff Tweedy of Wilco- but the focus of this list is on the ladies, so we turn our ears to Natalie Merchant. Perhaps it’s in the nature of the song’s age- penned by Woody Guthrie in his beginning stages, decades before Merchant ever grabbed a microphone- but there’s a vintage quality to her voice that makes it so warming and pleasurable to listen to, even with such forlorn subject matter.
  13. Depreston – Courtney Barnett
    Just when you thought listening to someone talking set to music would be boring, Courtney Barnett storms the scene with her brilliant talk-singing that creates a musical opus out of her personal diary entires. Set to her sloppily strummed guitar, Barnett slides in Aussie charm and attitude to her witty songs that range in topics from an allergic reaction to her garden to the qualms of househunting in the suburbs. Thus, “Depreston” was born.
  14. Break It Up – Patti Smith
    Pulled off her iconic Horses, “Break It Up” shows off Patti Smith in all her scratchy-voiced, rocker girl glory. Known as well as an avid poet, her lyricism is commanding in a beautifully transcendent way when juxtaposed with the harsh, jaunty instrumentation characteristic of all guitar heroines of the 60s and 70s. A rock ballad at its finest, Patti is here to say that girls can rock your face off, too.
  15. Honey Hi – Fleetwood Mac
    Christie vs Stevie advocates get ready to duke it out- whichever side you’re on, there’s no denying that both women are equally talented songwriters and songstresses. But it’s McVie whose airy soprano soars above in this simple but sweet tune from Fleetwood Mac. We’ve all come to know and love the earthier, richer tracks from the supergroup, but that’s not to say their more delicate ones need be overlooked- as evidenced by the gem “Honey Hi”.
  16. Ride To U – Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn
    Bela can be found bustin’ it out on the banjo- a phrase you probably never thought you’d hear before. But his wife, Abigail Washburn, overlays that with her voice, creating a unique sort of folk duo that sounds as if they’ve been pulled from an earlier time. Transforming “I’ve Been Working On The Railroad” from a children’s song into a flourishing folk song where husband and wife use their respective instruments in a musical battle for attention. “Ride To U” takes that passion and raises it, cashing out in a beautiful retro narrative.
  17. Can You Get To That – Mavis Staples
    While we’re throwing it back, the list can’t be complete without the soulful stylings of Mavis Staples. Holding roots in Roots music, Staples is constantly fusing the old with the new, reintroducing funk, soul, and gospel into the modern age. “Can You Get To That” is begging of you not only the title question, but also if you’re willing to match pace with Staples’ endlessly moving style.
  18. So Nice So Smart – Kimya Dawson
    Made famous for her work for the movie Juno, Kimya Dawson has restructured our familiarity with slacker rock with her raspy voice and spitfire lyrics. Touching on all things political as well as emotional, her songs are clever yet laden with passion. “So Nice So Smart” is unique in that it celebrates self-love- something modern songs forget to mention all too often. Another thing that makes Kimya so easy to love- her empowerment in promotion of the self.
  19. Stop, Focus – K. Flay
    More female rappers are rising to the occasion, but few are so captivating with their tempered mastery of rhythm as K. Flay. Hailing from the Chicago suburbs and a former attendee of Stanford University, she’s not your typical rapper; and she builds on her knowledge and is sure to include her skills as a wordsmith in each and every song. Her mixtapes are heavy with wordplay, the sign of any good rapper- but there’s an underlying studiousness that’s refreshing in an overwhelming world of aggressive rap. (Which is still fantastic in its own right.)
  20. Ribs – Lorde
    Riding on the storm of “Royals” and “Team”, the New Zealand youth has accomplished more at 18 than I have in a week. And though you, me, and everyone we know has probably grown sick of hearing the same tracks over and over again everywhere we go, her first studio album doesn’t lack merit. In fact, it’s those hidden tracks that lacked exposure where her true talent lies. “Ribs” is much more subdued than her power-pop ballads that climbed the charts, but it’s there where Lorde’s unrestrained vocals come through, showing us the little girl beneath the glam.
  21. May As Well – Angel Olsen
    It is at this point I am realizing how heavily biased this playlist is- I really like folk, guys. I really like indie. I really like folk indie… And while I wholeheartedly apologize to those in search of a more diverse mix of artists, I do stand by the belief that these ladies are some of the best in the business. In any case, Angel Olsen interlaces decades-old sound with a modern twist, crafting heartbreaking songs with her dainty voice and minimal instrumentation.
  22. Across The Water – Vashti Bunyan
    It takes a trained ear to enjoy listening to Vashti Bunyan, but once you’ve achieved that training, you’re certain to be more than grateful. Precariously high-pitched through nearly the entire song, “Across The Water” can be taxing to listen to. But the thing that makes folk music so great is its very narrative nature, which is captured in her rambling lines and riffs that seem to drop off without explanation. Such is the way of conversation. C’est la vie.
  23. Grass Stain – Waxahatchee
    Katie Crutchfield and her sister Alison have gone above and beyond in proving themselves as worthy musicians in recent years, with their respective groups, Waxahatchee and Swearin’ rising to the challenge and coming out endlessly on top. And what makes Waxahatchee particularly resonant is the hyper-personal nature of Katie’s songs, an account of her innermost thoughts, and probably, most of ours regarding growing up and not exactly feeling comfortable with that.
  24. Stars – Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
    I’ve spoken enough. Just listen and let Grace Potter melt your heart.

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