Pre-emptive Retrospective #2: ‘New’ Music

Finding new music was somewhere between a delight and a biological requirement. Limited as I was, my senses became heightened like a mundane Daredevil, able to sniff out a feminine pronoun in a write-up from 20 paces. This effect wasn’t exclusive to music, but that’s the medium I’m most connected to, so the need was more immediate.

I knew I needed to find more; what I hadn’t considered was how I might do that. I’d fallen out of touch with music press, and the amount of new music in my life was at an all-time low. I didn’t know where to look, and I still feel there’s too little coverage of female bands and artists in the music media. That’s not exactly a controversial opinion, but it’s a disappointing thing to note even after nearly eleven months of the Ladyist Experiment. If you’ve got a secret corner of the internet, or a got-to place to hear about women who make music, please let me know, because I need it in my life.

That said, music press was (and is) really secondary to friends and peers as a means of discovery. Seeing people talk about an artist on Twitter, or someone sharing an interesting article on Facebook led to way more new and exciting tunes than any online tastemaker. And let’s not forget the simple but deeply appreciated texts, emails, tweets, messages and the like that wonderful people like you sent me to recommend something. Those tips weren’t just valuable for my sanity, but also for my willingness to persist with the Ladyist. So thank you, one and all.

Without further ado, here are a few of the tunes I might never have heard if not for you.

The Staves – ‘Wisely & Slow’

I think I’ll always have a weak spot for folksy harmonies, and the Staves do them better than just about anyone else. Like Mountain Man, the siblings at the heart of the Staves mix British and Appalachian folk in their clean, shimmering harmonies, with the playfulness of WWII-era harmony groups like the Andrews Sisters. Their music of the debut album, Dead & Born & Grown, is sweet, if a little safe, but the songwriting chops hint at a strong future. They’ve got a new album coming soon, and I’m looking forward to a First Aid Kit-style expansion of their sound.

Tacocat – Hey Girl

If you managed to get this far into the Ladyist without seeing the name ‘Tacocat’, you’ve got a career in landmine removal ahead of you. I’ve been hooked on their 2014 album, NVM, for months, and I’m certainly not showing any signs of slowing. The band was recommended to me by way of a friend’s staggeringly cool teenage daughter, which is about as close as I’ll come to being ‘down with the kids’ (even the act of typing that confirmed that I’m no longer a kid; the fact that I did so in inverted commas hints at premature grey hair and the tendency to make noises when getting out of chairs). Tacocat’s giddy pop energy and progressive politics make them a natural fit for me, and my only complaint is that they’ve not got any more albums for me to listen to.

Emmy the Great – Swimming Pool

Jamie McKelvie (artist behind PhonogramThe Wicked + The Divine, generally excellent human) mentioned this track on Twitter late last year, and I haven’t stopped listening to it in the intervening months. Skipping back, Emmy’s previous work was more in the Laura Marling vein of polite British folk, so it’s even more striking to hear ‘Swimming Pool’ emerge so perfectly formed. The just-so reverb on the guitar adds a perfect haze to the track, which pairs with the loping hip-hop-via-Lorde beat to give the song a sun-drunk sway. It conjures the ripples and refracted sunlight of a pristine pool, so much so that even a noted non-swimmer like me daydreams about a dip with every play. And that’s before we get to the subtle class-consciousness that Emmy weaves into the pool imagery. It’s a staggering piece, and I’ll be first to grab the album when it turns up.

FKA Twigs – Water Me

Forgive the obvious jump from one aquatic song to another, but the connections between ‘Swimming Pool’ and ‘Water Me’ extend beyond the overlapping metaphors. They’re sound alike, too, with slow, loping beats and delay that wash the edges off everything. The way each artist uses those components, though, could not be more different. Where Emmy the Great is idyllic, FKA Twigs mixes menace and sensuality into ‘Water Me’, picking apart a failed love from within the safety of obscuring delay and ghostly harmonies. It’s both intensely human and strangely alien, and it’s FKA Twig’s magic touch that allows the latter to enhance the former.

Haley Bonar – Last War

‘Last War’ is the title track to Haley’s 2014 record, a slow-burner of an album that has stayed with me over the last few months. It’s never been in high-rotation, but I’ve found myself turning to Last War more and more of late, in need of the quiet intensity it exudes even as it grapples with its own bleakness. Cover art is usually neither here nor there, but Last War‘s smouldering ruins of a burning house tells you more than you might think about the album behind it.

Orenda Fink – Holy Holy

This is the last in a long line of slow songs, but, unlike the tracks that came before, the stately pace of ‘Holy Holy’ lends it an appropriately reverent air. The slow-picked arpeggios and soft bass call to mind the celestial grandeur of Sigur Ros, a comparison that pays off in the chorus’s two transcendent chimes. This is mana from heaven for music supervisors everywhere: it possesses a quiet certainty that hints at deeper, more spiritual things without being tactless or blunt, and does so with rare beauty.

Ex Hex – Don’t Wanna Lose

Really, I could’ve picked any track from Ex Hex’s Rips, a cracking album that was one of my favourites from last year. It’s throwback garage rock without all the bullshit pretension, a straight-up ’70s mash-note played and sung with the charisma to pull it off. It’s loose, unflashy and charming as hell. ‘Don’t Wanna Lose’ stands out for the dirty riffing of the chorus, but just play the album through in full.

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Pre-emptive Retrospective #2: ‘New’ Music

Pre-emptive Retrospective #1: ‘Old’ Music

As the calendar is keen to remind me, the Ladyist Experiment’s year is almost up! And since I’m plotting an interstate move between now and the end of March, it’s going to come screeching up like a coke-riddled prison escapee in a stolen Lamborghini. I also know that I have been sporadic in Ladyist updates, so I’m going to try and cram in as many recommendations and reflecting packed with searing insight as I possibly can between now and the end of March.

This is the first of such crammings-in, beginning with the music that carried me through the past almost-year. Each subsequent cramming will feature overviews of another medium (podcasts, comics, TV, books and movies). To start with, though, I’ll split music into Old and New; that way, we keep everything from getting unwieldy and save you from readings 6000 words on Neko Case (you’ve got that to look forward to).

For now, let’s look at the Old; that is, all the musicians and bands I knew before the Ladyist started. I noted at the outset that my music collection became much slimmer as of April 1st, and there’s no getting around that: without accurate data (because I haven’t the patience to gather it), I’d say that a mere 10% of my collection was Ladyist-friendly. Pre-Ladyist, I wouldn’t have claimed to be anywhere near equal representation, but I would’ve guessed at a split closer to 30/70.

Redressing that imbalance requires a lot of fresh blood, which I’ll look closer at next time, but the first part of the Experiment involved revisiting the small slice of my collection still available to me. That’s mostly a function of money (of which I am not made), but it ended up providing some of the most interesting material.

As someone who collects stuff faster than they can be consumed, there are reams of albums, DVDs and books that sit on my shelves with plastic seals intact or spines unbroken. I can’t be alone in this, can I? Because of that habit, I found lots of Ladyist-friendly albums that I’d only listened to a few times, and failed to appreciate the first time. And of course, I’m not the same person I was when I first listened, and found plenty of new ways to appreciate old loves. Such as…

Neko Case

No, I’m not going to oppress you with 6000 words on Neko; I’ve spilled enough words on her already, and will doubtless spill more in the future, so I’ll save myself (and save you).

I’d been a Neko Case fan for years pre-Ladyist, or at least I thought I was. I played Middle Cyclone incessantly at work, and owned at least two other albums and a live DVD. I’d seen her perform at the City Recital Hall in Angel Place, a venue that provided the perfect showcase for her unbelievable voice.

What I hadn’t done, though, was listen. I mean, of course I’d heard the albums, heard her sing, but I think I’d only enjoyed her on a surface level. The sounds she made, the timbre of her music, was enough for me, and I didn’t go any deeper. It was only early last year that I was forced to slow down, to pay closer attention, and she rewarded every bit of that attention. There were marvels I hadn’t even noticed before: the way she slyly changes the pulse of ‘John Saw That Number’ by shifting syllables (listen for the “He flew from the pit/ with the moon ’round his waist/ gathered wind in his fists/ and the stars ’round his wrists” to hear her play with internal rhyme and rhythm with the casual ease of a hip-hop dynamo); the bared teeth of ‘People Got a Lotta Nerve’ that you’d mistake for a grin until you catch the steel in her eyes; the way she carves up country, bar-band rock and an unfathomable mix of other genres into something that is so singularly her all across The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You (an album title so grand I take every opportunity to write it in full).

In short, I’d missed her. I’d missed the nuance, the detail of a real person, and that was my loss. If nothing else comes of the Ladyist Experiment (though there are other things, and many at that), it will have been worth it to really, properly see Neko Case.

Sleater-Kinney

Sleater-Kinney, along with just about everyone else who follows, fell into a similar position as Neko, though in the case of S-K, I knew I didn’t get them. I bought their 2005 album The Woods after seeing a Sub Pop DVD that included the clips for ‘Entertain’ and ‘Jumpers’. ‘Entertain’ instantly carved out a space in my brain that it occupies even now, exposing me to the jet-engine power of Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker’s combined woah-oh-ohs. And let’s not forget the adrenaline dump that still comes when I hear Janet Weiss’s thunderous tom-pounding. The song still stands, for mine, as one of their greatest, but my connection didn’t go any further for nearly a decade. Maybe I was put off by the (purposeful) challenge of album opener ‘The Fox’, or maybe I simply wasn’t ready for it; whatever the reason, it went back into my collection half listened-to.

When I came back to The Woods during the Ladyist, though, the stars seemed to align, and that little occupied territory in my brain quickly spread. The dissonant, scrappy sounds suddenly made sense to me, a mind-expanding unity of message and medium: in the howls and shrieks, I heard a defiant refusal to bow to masculine norms or fragile ideas of femininity. Theirs wasn’t so much a resistance as a total denial of the authority they were supposed to bow to, carving out an identity outside the narrow proscriptions for quote-unquote women in rock. They refuse to be pinned down by your boring-ass binaries.

Seeing the documentary The Punk Singer at Girls On Film Festival was critical to this revelation. I had gone through the de rigueur rebellious phase required of all teenage boys, peppered with vaguely incendiary, politicised bands who criticised all the right things from the safe space of Never Having To Do Anything. That’s no slight against the idea of political bands, but it wasn’t until I saw Kathleen Hanna and Bikini Kill that I realised the truly, actually revolutionary potential of music. Shouting about the president or the military-industrial complex is one thing, but it’s got nothing on the sheer power it takes to be a woman who, at the height of grunge, politely but firmly tells the men in her audience to stand back and give women space at the front. It was a brain-breaking moment in a truly superb doco, and an essential part of my understanding Sleater-Kinney.

Since their debut album in 1995, there have been a ton of bands influenced by Sleater-Kinney, but still no-one can touch the originals. Their newest album, No Cities To Love, packs the same snarl as Call the Doctor, and they’re still carving out their own space 20+ years on. ‘A New Wave’ is a statement of purpose, as they declare, “no outline will ever hold us/ it’s not a new wave it’s just you and me”. (Bringing this up was a shameless justification to include the song’s clip, but I stand by it).

St. Vincent

I’m not ashamed to admit that I didn’t quite ‘get’ St. Vincent in her early days. I was drawn to Annie Clark’s debut album, ‘Marry Me’, because of her past as a touring member of Sufjan Stevens’ band, and I liked that album. A few years later, in 2009, I bought ‘Actor’, and I liked that album. Much like Neko, though, I liked the superficial things: the tone of Annie’s voice, or the curious instrumentation. I caught hints of the more menacing undertone in songs like ‘Actor Out of Work’ and ‘Your Lips Are Red’, but didn’t find enough to latch onto; or, more honestly, I didn’t look hard enough. I’m definitely culpable here: I put the burden on St. Vincent to explain to me why she deserved my attention, when I should’ve been the one to puzzle out the idiosyncrasies that kept pulling me back.

Then I saw this:

To be fair, a friend had done a lot of the groundwork to prepare me for this revelation. Anna did an episode of the Ladyist podcast in which we talked about St. Vincent’s self-titled album from last year, which I had not yet heard at that stage. I’d decided I wasn’t the St. Vincent type, and that I wished Ms. Clark all the best as we went our separate ways (I’m sure she was devastated). I can’t pinpoint the moment, but something in the conversation with Anna must’ve made a connection in my brain that I couldn’t make on my own, and I found myself listening more and more to St. Vincent. It’s an album she couldn’t have made earlier, dialling up the nervous energy from her earlier records and delivering it with a Bowie-level mix of certainty and eccentricity. It’s properly weird, and refuses to be ignored: maybe you don’t like it, but you can’t block it out.

Then came That Video, and it was sealed.

Somewhere between her shredding in space, and whipping up smoke with her hair (while still shredding), it struck me how unlike anyone else St. Vincent is. Yeah, the Bowie comparison stands, but more in attitude than character; and the influence of David Byrne following their collaboration is hard to deny, but she’s not defined by that. It’s in the way she plays, the awkward intervals and uneasy rhythms, that resonated with me. The guitar is such a boring instrument, it’s playing so codified over the fifty or sixty years of rock that it seems impossible to do anything interesting with it. But like Sleater-Kinney, St. Vincent carves out her own space, solo by solo, and does so entirely on her own terms.

Janelle Monaé

To talk too much about Janelle would be repeating myself: the story of my new/renewed appreciation of her many, many charms is very much the same as the three above, and I’ve already talked at length about the power of Ms. Monaé, but I can’t pass up the excuse to drop in the video of her performing ‘Tightrope’ on Letterman just once more.

Ok, it probably won’t be the last time. Don’t hold it against me.

I do go on. I’ll wrap up now, but be sure and come back to hear about the New music I came across in the course of the Ladyist Experiment. That’ll be along real soon!

Pre-emptive Retrospective #1: ‘Old’ Music

Janelle Monáe: Q.U.E.E.N

The Ladyist has been dealing with some heavy stuff lately, so here’s a brighter subject.

Janelle Monae
Doesn’t get much brighter than this.

This, for the uninitiated, is Janelle Monáe. Sci-fi visionary. Dance icon. Robot angel. Q.U.E.E.N. Make-up model. Hair magician. R&B superhero. Stop me when this gets too much; she’s too much for words. Instead of words, watch this:

Then watch this:

And lastly, this:

The sharp-eyed among you will notice that I posted the same video three times. This is no mistake; this is to make sure you take in the magic and majesty that is Janelle Monáe. That one-footed slide she does is worth watching again on its own (don’t worry, it’ll be back).

That Letterman appearance was my introduction to this dynamo, and what an introduction it was. Packing the pizazz of James Brown into a tiny, dapper frame, she moves with the kind of fluidity that feels as game-changing as early Michael Jackson performances and writes songs that make Prince sit up and pay attention (he guested on her second album). All of that in one song? Incredible. And that’s before we even begin to talk about her voice.

But then you get to The ArchAndroid, and you realise ALL THAT was only a teeny tiny fragment of the beginning of an idea of what Janelle can do.

The Fritz Lang reference of the cover is the first hint that this isn’t your ordinary pop album.

The ArchAndroid is an epic, a stage musical in audio form. No sound is off limits to Janelle’s voracious creativity: she moves as lightly through dreamy classical-inspired suites (‘Suite II Overture) as she does through pop (‘Faster’), through torch ballads (‘Cold War’, ‘Neon Valley Heart’)  and robo-funk (‘Wondaland’). Each song moves into the next so smoothly that the transition between the nightmare funk of ‘Come Alive (The War of the Roses)’ and the hip-hop-inflected Julie Andrews numbers (‘Mushrooms & Roses’) seems natural and obvious.

Her second album, The Electric Lady, is less keen on the genre-hopping, but there are still flourishes of Bond themes, Herb Alpert, the score to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and brilliantly on-point android-radio interludes to spice up her super-tight funk/soul/groove explosion. That concision makes Electric Lady as less showy album, and it’s maybe not as game-changing as The ArchAndroid, but it’s an incredible record in its own right, and features an astounding array of guests like Erykah Badu, Solange, Esperanza Spalding, Miguel and, yeah, Prince.

Then there are her video clips…

Her clips are as perfectly considered and beautifully executed as her albums, which is no small feat. Janelle herself is a powerhouse, unafraid to show off her ability to sing, dance, rap and act, and she does so while being better dressed than I’ll be on the finest day of my life. They’re art projects, particularly ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’, which continues Janelle’s fascination with black and white contrast.

Even the label-mandated, Samsung-branded clip for ‘Electric Lady’ is more fun than it has any right to be.

Cold War, though, speaks to the human part of Janelle’s work, the heart that keeps this from all being an exercise in showing off.

That intimacy, that directness takes a different kind of strength than the flashy performer, or the would-be artist. It’s a whole other side to a woman who was already as multi-faceted as a gemstone. An artist. A designer. A model. A dancer. A composer. Oh, and a writer.

As she began on her debut EP, Metropolis: The Chase Suite, Janelle frames The ArchAndroid and The Electric Lady with the story of Cindi Mayweather, a time-traveling android who just might be a kind of robot messiah. In the way of all good sci-fi (and genre) writers, Janelle uses Cindi and the android working class as a way of getting at race relations, gender relations, sexuality, privilege and a whole host of other ideas. Is that enough for her? Is it what. She’s spoken in the past about turning The ArchAndroid into a graphic novel, and a Broadway production. I for one would be there at the launch of either, given the chance.

I’ll leave you with a great piece by Charles Pulliam-Moore at NPR’s Code Switch blog. He mentioned Janelle in a piece on Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’, Wakanda, and Afrofuturism, and I think you should go read it in full. Here’s a snippet for you anyway, quoting comic book historian Adilifu Nama:

“Afrofuturism creates a space in which blackness is equated with futurism, cybernetics and super-science,” he explained. “All of these ideas undermine the trope of the urban, or the subservient, or the criminal.”

Not just any pop album. No ma’am.

Janelle Monáe: Q.U.E.E.N

On ‘Being Me’

This post was supposed to be about Janelle Monae (don’t worry, that’s still coming), but something came up that I couldn’t ignore.

On Monday night, ABC’s Four Corners aired an episode called “Being Me“, which featured three transgender people talking about their identity and the obstacles they face in their efforts to be recognised as their true gender. In the intro, host Kerry O’Brien uses the words “courage” and “inspirational” to describe that struggle, and usually this would send me scurrying for the unsentimental hills, but this story is especially powerful, and personally relevant.

Of the three stories, one focused on transgender man Paige Elliott Phoenix and his very public coming-out on The X Factor; another introduced Jamie, a transgender woman in her teens, and dealt with her family’s legal battles to access hormone blockers without requiring a court order. Both Paige and Jamie’s stories are heartbreaking and critical to our conversations about gender. Paige’s estrangement from her mother and Jamie’s depression and suicidal ideation are trials we can save future transgender people from having to face if we share these stories, and help others to understand the very real nature of their gender dysphoria.

It was the story of Isabelle, age 11, that struck me hardest. An articulate and sweet child, Isabelle (then called Campbell) told her mother 18 months earlier that she didn’t feel like she was in the right body. Parents Andrew and Naomi weren’t expecting this revelation, but their response was the kind I think all transgender folk hope for. Supportive and caring, they’ve helped Isabelle in the transition into living as a girl, and she’s now seeing a paediatrician who works in the gender clinic of the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.

I can’t quite explain what it is about Isabelle’s story that hit me so hard, but the effect was unmistakeable: mid-bite into a huge sandwich, I was ugly-crying, heaving with sobs and trying to not inhale chunks of haloumi. Maybe it was the serious, matter-of-fact way that Isabelle discussed her dysphoria, or the idea that 30% of children like Isabelle attempt suicide if they don’t receive treatment. In truth, it was probably all of those things, plus a personal connection.

I first noticed the way stories of transgender women affected me when Against Me!’s lead singer came out as trans in an interview with Rolling Stone. I’d been a long-term fan of Tom Gabel, as he was known then, but my response to his revelation struck some chord deeper than that. She’s lived as a woman for the last two years, going by Laura Jane Grace, and put out the best album of her career.

Transgender Dysphoria Blues isn’t just a cracker of an album title; it’s a fierce and furious statement of identity, and a scathing attack on the people who reacted poorly to Laura’s transition. That it also happens to test the limits of her songwriting and take her into new genre territory is an excellent bonus that makes repeated listening even more necessary.

The title track, which opens the album, pulls no punches. As a taste of the abuse a transgender woman gets, it’s devastating: Laura doesn’t shy from slurs like “you’ve got no cunt in your strut”, but the fire-eyed intensity with which she responds is electrifying. On the other hand, ‘Unconditional Love’ drives home the loneliness and hardship of dealing with gender dysphoria, where even the support of a loving wife isn’t enough to get by. It’s a strange subject for a raucous rock song, but then, Grace has been writing Against Me! songs about anarchism, racial politics and the redundancy of protest songs, so nothing’s out of bounds.

The personal connection that binds these subjects is something I can’t dismiss, though it’s maybe not so clear as it might seem. At this stage in my life, I don’t consider myself transgender. As often and as intensely as identify with women, I don’t think that I am one of them. Nor, however, do I think of myself as particularly at home with the idea of being a man. I don’t mean that in the sense that masculine identity is nebulous and ill-defined (though it’s true, and relevant); I mean it in the sense that I don’t think of myself as a man any more than I think of myself as a woman. I don’t know exactly what I am, and I’m really at the beginning of working all that out.

What I cannot deny, though, is the way that stories like Isabelle’s and Laura’s affect me. I’m only relatively new to these ideas of gender, and I can’t be the only one struggling to recognise their identity in that way (plus the many, many other factors that influence it). Isabelle’s paediatrician, Michelle Telfer, notes that referrals have jumped from 1 in 2003 to hundreds now, and that such increases are occurring internationally. As she observes, it’s less likely that there are more transgender children, but more that there are greater numbers recognising their situation and seeking support. These sorts of stories are critical to help more of us understand our gender identity, and equally critical in legitimising the people grappling with dysphoria so they can get access to the medical care and support they need.

On ‘Being Me’

Credit where credit is due

I don’t feel like I stop often enough in the course of this project to thank you all for the positivity and support you wonderful folks give me every day. When I decided to start the Ladyist, it seemed like such a small, personal choice that I honestly hadn’t considered how people would respond to it. Instead, I’ve been flabbergasted by the almost entirely positive response, not to mention the huge amount of articles, videos, songs and other suggestions you’ve sent me. It’s really wonderful to know that this decision wasn’t a silly one, that there are heaps of other people who understand and are keen to support this solipsistic little adventure.

In that spirit, then, I’d like to share some of the great recommendations that have come my way. I’ve always suspected that my friends are blessed with good taste (i.e. taste that corresponds to my own), and these last two months have done nothing but confirm that theory. So here, in an entirely haphazard order, is some of the brilliant music you’ve helped me find.

20140602-203044-73844881.jpg

Spotlight Kid – A Minor Character

 

Music savant (and, I hear, nifty game designer) Alex put me onto this, linking me to their Bandcamp. I had bought the album before preceding track, ‘Sugar Pills’, could finish, but ‘A Minor Character’ is the song I keep coming back to. Truly, it was laser-targeted: the dream-pop allure of Pains of Being Pure at Heart wrapped in sweet sweet shoegaze synths straight off M83’s Saturdays=Youth was a mix I was never going to resist, but Katty Heath’s soft coo lends the chorus kiss-off “you are such a/minor character in my life” such a casual edge that it somehow bites extra hard. You don’t even begin to matter, no matter how much you think you should. It’s the highlight of a very strong album; I’ve listened to Ten Thousand Hours for approximately as long as its title suggests in the past few weeks, with no signs of slowing down now. Once you hear that deeply satisfying moment in the chorus where the distortion kicks in at *just* the right moment, you’ll know why.

The Doubleclicks – Lasers and Feelings

 

If you have an instinctive, irrational hate for funny musicians, I suggest you move onto the next entry (and maybe, while you’re at it, reconsider your prejudice). Equally, if the idea of a two-women folk duo whose main instruments are ukulele and cello distresses you, move right along.

If you’re still here, welcome – you’re probably one of three people who’ll make it this far. Everyone else stinks, and it’s their loss. Sure, they’re incredibly dorky and earnest, but those are the exact qualities that make the Doubleclicks so endearing. They own their nerdiness with irresistible confidence, and do so while singing harmonies and dropping sharp little wordplays in every few lines. And seriously, how is it that I’ve waited this long to hear a love song to a supervillain?

Lucas, polymath nerd who knows stuff, put me onto the Doubleclicks, along with another billion or so things. I’ve only just begun to put a dent in the pile of comics he lent me.

Joanna Gruesome – Lemonade Grrl

 

I think Ben was the first person I know to be smitten with Joanna Gruesome, and I have learned that that is always a strong indicator of quality. Part of the appeal was the childish play on the name of another much-loved musician, Joanna Newsom; I am nothing if not a sucker for puns. The rest of the appeal, though, and the reason they appear on this list, it the sometimes sweet, sometimes savage twee pop that’s all over Weird Sister. Like Los Campesinos, there’s a wild, noisy energy to Joanna Gruesome, all feedback and cooed girl-boy harmonies, with the occasional temper tantrum breakdown (apparently the band formed in an anger management class, which is a damned cool backstory even if it turns out to be fiction). Alanna Gruesome (or Alanna McArdle, before the band Ramonesed themselves) can make you bark along with lyrics like “I dream of pulling out your teeth”, giddy with catharsis, then have you properly swooning when she sings, “it’s such a pleasure to touch your skin”. Those hard right-turns from sweet melody to shouting that keeps Weird Sister exciting the whole way through, listen after listen.

Ani DiFranco – 32 Flavors

 

Firstly, I only spell it without the ‘u’ because it’s a song title; secondly, I’m a little scared to admit that I knew virtually no Ani before Catriona made me this wonderful Spotify playlist (Brocklesnitch, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry). I mean, I’d listen to ‘Untouchable Face’ a bunch of times, but that was mainly down to the indisputable thrill of hearing the word ‘fuck’ in a song chorus when you’re an impressionable age (I remained impressionable well after I should’ve grown out of it). Since then, though, I didn’t give Ani much attention – the album covers have dated in that way particular to records from the late 90s, and I’m guilty of judging her music on that basis.

She hit me doubly hard, then, when I finally did revisit her as part of Treemie’s playlist. Listening as I ate breakfast one morning, I froze when ’32 Flavors’ cut through the pre-caffeine fog and struck me (this experience was so notable that I’ve resorted to mixed metaphors to explain it).

I still can’t quite identify what it is about ’32 Flavours’ that makes it so compelling, but I’m content to keep playing it on the off chance that I might make sense of that. I’ve listened to Canon a few times since then, and though nothing else has had such an instant impact, I’ll happily explore if there’s more like this to be found.

Perfect Pussy – Driver

 

‘Big Stars’ is one of the more sedate tracks on Say Yes To Love; I would’ve preferred to share ‘Driver’ or ‘Bells’ as a better indicator, but even Google’s SafeSearch function struggles when one of the key phrases of your search is ‘Perfect Pussy’ [edit: I gave up working from an iPad so I could embed from Spotify, which ruins an otherwise perfectly good opening sentence that I’m too precious to discard]. The band is cacophonous, a squall of feedback and blown-out drums that might overwhelm Meredith Graves if she weren’t such a commanding presence. She fights to be heard over the furious bashing and fuzz, gasping every breath and standing tall with every word she sings. It’s electrifying, and oddly uplifting. Jack can recommend me more like this any time she likes.

I don’t have the space to list every single one of the wonderful recommendations you lot have given me, and you wouldn’t have time to read it. I am, however, a bottomless pit where music is concerned, and as such am always in need of more suggestions. If you know any Ladyist music that you think I’d love, feel free to tell me! Comments are always welcome here. Otherwise, send a tweet (@aLadyist), a message on Facebook, or an email (theladyistexperiment@gmail.com), and enlighten me.

 

BONUS FEATURE

Alanna from Joanna Gruesome and Meredith from Perfect Pussy contributed to a fascinating article on being the only woman in a band. It was in response to a kinda tone-deaf piece by another musician, but the insights they and others have into that lifestyle are worth reading. Find it here.

Credit where credit is due

An itch to scratch

I may be mere days in, but this experiment has a weird knack for revealing challenges I’d never considered. Now, that might just say something about a lack of foresight on my part, but, like hide and seek, it doesn’t matter if I’m ready or not.

The latest obstacle came about after a shitty work day on Saturday. Once I got away (45 mins late, mind you), I realised that all the music I’d reach for when I’m low is now out of bounds to me. I tend to be homeopathic in my music choices, so a mood like this usually calls for stuff like Bill Callahan or the National: sombre, miserablist stuff, for sure, but also very masculine. Deep voices, spare lyrics and country-ish inflections aren’t a sole preserve of the menfolk, but they’re far more common in male performers. So where do I go to scratch that itch without ruining this project in the space of days?

Start with Gillian Welch. Similar in timbre and tempo to Mr Callahan, her reflective, melancholy brand of Americana carries a kind of gravitas that leaves you breathless, even if the ‘country’ section makes you break out in hives. Her borderline-perfect 2001 album, Time (The Revelator), is an excellent introduction, and its closing track, ‘I Dream A Highway’ is a 14 min epic that seems to drift by in moments. Just don’t forget that you’re on a bus; I’ve missed my stop more than once because of this track.

 

Sometimes Gillian just isn’t enough to soothe what ails you, and that’s ok. On those days, flick your way down to Waxahatchee‘s album, Cerulean Salt. My love affair with this record was instant and deep: something about Katie Crutchfield‘s direct, bare-bones recording style speaks to my lo-fi heart. There are a handful of fuzzed-out power-pop numbers to get your heart rate going, but the slow numbers are what kept me coming back. I listened to this album endlessly in 2013, and went through phases in which each track on the album was my favourite, so choosing one to show you is difficult. Give ‘Hollow Bedroom’ a spin, and tell me you aren’t in love before she hits the chorus.

 

Other suggestions worth trying out:

Kimya Dawson – ‘Loose Lips’. I’ll never not tear up at this song. I genuinely believe Kimya when she says, “remember that I love you”.

 

Sleater-Kinney – ‘Entertain’. Sometimes, quiet and reassuring just won’t cut it. On those occasions, crank this and kick arse.

 

What Ladyist-friendly stuff do you turn to? Suggestions are not only welcome, they’re positively encouraged.

An itch to scratch

How much have I bitten off?

Well, it didn’t take long for the reality of this project to set in. Have you tried watching TV and not seeing men? You’ll wear out your remote, I tell you. I’d turned over to Mythbusters when I got home for light, brainless viewing without thinking, but it took me a beat to realise what I’d done. Flicking around, I ended up turning the TV off entirely rather than contend with the mass of Y chromosomes on display (figuratively, of course). There are worse fates, certainly, but it was an early insight into how hard this experiment might be.

The next clue was my music collection. Previously, I’d thought myself quite inclusive — plenty of women, for sure! But now the list was staring back at me, and it suddenly seemed so small. It was too early in the morning to be told by your iPhone that you’ve been lying to yourself. The glass-half-full perspective is that it forced me to give a few more listens to the second Best Coast album (better than I remembered, but still a bit aimless compared to the first one), and pull out the Lemuria album that I’d acquired at some stage in the past few years (sweet, crunchy power pop of the exact kind I worried I’d miss without access to Surfer Blood or the Lemonheads). The other positive is, of course, the new-found liberty to buy more music, which I duly exercised this evening.

I grabbed Sky Ferreira‘s debut, Night Time, My Time, and Laura Mvula‘s album from last year, Sing to the Moon. I’d heard a little of Laura’s record at work, but hadn’t had much chance to dig into it. The Janelle Monae-style soul flourishes had stayed with me, but slipped my mind, so I was thrilled to have my friend Lamar remind me of it and give me a second turn. Check out the first track and its neat little papercraft/flipbook video, ‘Like the Morning Dew‘.

Another friend, Catriona, had been lovely enough to make me a Spotify playlist to help me on my Ladyist journey (you can have a listen here). It’s a nifty mix of the familiar, the foreign, and a few foreign artists with whom I should have been familiar by now: case in point, Joni Mitchell. As a direct result of Catriona’s playlist, I had ‘Both Sides Now’ in my head all day, so I capitulated to both years of pressure and my internal radio, and bought a best of. I’m not usually a Best Of type of listener, but Joni’s collection is so big that I thought an overview would be a good starting place. I also grabbed Chelsea Wolfe‘s album, Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs mainly because I like the cover (my reasoning can’t always be deep and meaningful).

On a brighter note, I very nearly missed my bus stop coming home this evening, so lost was I in Patti Smith‘s autobiography, Just Kids. Have you read it? If you haven’t, grab a copy now, regardless of your feelings about her. I’ve always admired Patti’s music more than I’ve enjoyed it, but I find myself enraptured with her writing. Even if you knew nothing else of her, you can hear the poet in the way she writes, though her prose is nothing so flowery or pretentious as that might suggest. I’ve been in a bit of a rut with reading lately; it saddened me to reflect on how much I used to read compared to my more scattered reading habits nowadays. Just Kids has me wanting to cram in time for it at every opportunity, though: waiting at the bus stop; getting coffee; on my break while I eat. It’s captivating, and a pleasure, and I can’t wait to finish it. (Can make a slightly old-fashioned suggestion, grab a physical copy if possible. The paper stock is soft and lovely, ready to soften at the edges and brown under your fingertips, showing all the signs of a well-loved book.)

How much have I bitten off?