What Am I Listening To?

Yes, what am I listening to, I hear nobody asking me? Well, nobody, let me tell you, even though you’re turning away and trying to ignore me.

Hey, don’t walk away from me, I’m talking!

Get back here!

Okay, so I’m on a bit of a feminine kick at the moment. Which is to say I’m listening to a greater than usual proportion of music written and performed by women. It’s a nice change in perspective from usual manly.

First up there’s Sharon Van Etten’s latest, Are We There, which I think is fantastic. Her voice is… wow, I just can’t describe how great she sounds on this record. Songs like “Tarifa”, “I Know” and the brutally dark “Your Love is Killing Me” reflect a maturity and confidence in her songwriting. Where her last LP, 2012’s Tramp, sounded a little hesitant and timid in places, Are We There is bold and bright and sees Van Etten tackle subject matter a little more directly than before.  “Your Love is Killing Me” is a great example, beautifully melodic and thrilling, which is an odd thing to say about song  tackling domestic abuse.

The instrumentation is not too far removed from Tramp’s National-esque  indie, but there’s a couple of piano ballads, and a few poppier numbers like “Taking Chances” and “Our Love”. These are cool, but lack the raw emotion of Are We There’s more intimate numbers. Still, you kind of need them, because this album is achingly sad at times. It all ends on a relatively upbeat note with the record’s catchy closer “Every Time the Sun Comes Up”.

Tune-Yards, or tUnE-yArDs (yeah that’s silly) just put out a new record Nikki Nack, so naturally I instead bought the previous one W H O K I L L. I read about Tune-Yards in some magazine at some point in the past, presumably during the Whokill album cycle, and there were pictures of Merrill Garbus with a smear of facepaint across one side of her face, and she kind of looks a lot like somebody I happen to know and be very fond of, and that really freaked me out, so I filed it away and paid no further attention for fear of my brain blowing up.

Recently I saw a youtube clip of her performing Water Fountain on some US talk show or other ahead of the new album’s release, and that seemed really cool, so I watched a few videos from the W H O K I L L album and decided I should start there.

Then I got really, really into it.

Garbus is a singer I can really get behind, she’s refreshingly uninhibited, from quiet whisper-singing one second to screaming her lungs out the next. Also, there’s a dynamism to her songwriting that is enthralling. It’s visceral and raw. Opener “My Country” is a great example, and “Bizness” is similarly wonderful. The album is not all frenetic, it has its share of slower moments. “Powa” is unbearably sensual, while “Wooly Wolly Gong” is a weirdly haunted lullaby.

Anyway, it would be very easy to be cynical to write this off, a white woman stealing ideas from African and blues music for her own loop-pedal hipster indulgences, but man, check your cynicism at the door. There’s a sincere playfulness here that makes this music seem more exciting and vital than anything I’ve heard in years.

Yeah, and I think she’s real pretty too.

St. Vincent is an even more recent discovery for me, but I bought her first two records and Love This Giant (her collaboration with David Byrne) a couple of days ago. It’s appropriate St. Vincent’s Annie Clark would work with David Byrne, because the two of them present these weirdly affected/disaffected images of themselves, and are both very strong singular performers. See Clark following Byrne’s moves like a marionette in this video:

There’s a lot of cool stuff on Love This Giant, but the songs seem to mostly be split between the two singers, and there’s not as much shared stuff as I’d like.

Her début solo album Marry Me is just fabulous. “Now, Now” is a great opener with its chiming pitched-up guitar harmonics and incredible chorus hook “I’m not any, any, any, any, any, any, any, anything…”

The follow-up, Actor, seems a lot louder and is taking longer to get into, but hey, I’ve had these records two days, cut me some slack, Jack. It does start with a song featuring the line “paint the black hole blacker,” which is something.

Oh, and speaking of music by women, this Heavens to Betsy song seems to have somehow wormed its way into my subconscious to become one of my favourite songs ever written:

“I love you so much you could hurt me,
So I do it first, so you won’t see me…”

That’s so perfect. And those chords. Shivers, I tell thee, right up my spine.

So anyway, that’s what I’m listening to, mostly, at the moment.

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