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.

Pre-emptive Retrospective #2: ‘New’ Music