Female Vocals of Distinction (list of ten obscure albums)

Over time scouring the depths of our flawed but once fleetingly beloved eMu, a lot of music accumulates that I want to promote in a list, but the genre is either unclear, inconsistent, or too rare to get to the magic number of ten.  Here’s a female vocalist’s list of her own spanning lots of different styles, often within the same album or even individual songs.  

1. “Favourite Attic” - Romie (2017).  The one that spawned this genre-defying list when it wouldn’t stick to folk, rock, or even chamber pop consistently.  Blending of two ladies’ pretty voices is definitely not the usual kind of thing I listen to or put on a list, and I’m a little uneasy about leading this one with it.  A bargain at $2, in any case.

2. “S/t” - Sväva (2017).  Two of my go-to favorite comparisons in one nice EP, also for $2.  If there were a pageant to crown a Dutch synth-pop band that might be what it would sound like for Mimi Parker of Low to sing for Ladytron, this would be my nominee.  https://svavaband.bandcamp.com/album/sv-va-2

3. “Ens Endurem El Vent” - Namina (2019).  For a foot fetishist, painting one’s toenails on the album art might be just as sexy as other female vocalists try to look on theirs, but it’s actually apt for Namina’s different sound.  The pitch of her voice is lower than most, and these songs are coolly subdued overall.  A mighty nice way to spend 99 cents.  https://namina.bandcamp.com/album/ens-endurem-el-vent-ep

4. “Beneath the Waves” - Seacircle (2019).  Not gonna lie, almost no one will like this album, but I think risk-taking should at least be acknowledged.  Experimental string accompaniment of breathy  moaning, screaming, and something like improvised scat, only occasionally and then barely decipherably in English.  Could you be anything but enticed?  She does have quite a range, and sometimes these totally out of left field albums can be the perfect aural palette-cleanser.  Maybe for fans of This Mortal Coil and DAUU, though I don’t know if either of them actually has fans.  Definitely for those who want to be surprised by every track on an album.  Is it jazz?  

5. “S/t” - Tragavenao Orquesta Afrobeat (2014).  My Afrobeat knowledge is spotty, but I don’t know any other groups from Venezuela or whose lead singers are women.  Latin-Afro-splendid.  https://tragavenao.bandcamp.com/

6. “Recreate” - Tawiah (2018).  I don’t know if I’ll get around to an R&B/soul list, so best not to sit on this 99-cent EP by a semi-famous British singer.  Variety in understated, generally electronic accompaniment helps me to appreciate a style of music I don’t listen to very often.  She seems almost restrained compared to U.S. counterparts (who seem to compete to be unrelentingly sensual and hold a note as long as possible while shouting), like she doesn’t want to raise her voice, and I doubt these would make a splash on commercial radio.  Definitely how I prefer new R&B to be.  Ask me what the top pop divas have over her, and I will say nothing (though you’d be asking the wrong audiophile).  Not sure why we should be so lucky to get a deluxe edition with three bonus tracks.  https://tawiahmusic.bandcamp.com/album/recreate-deluxe-2

7. “The House That Jack Built” - Jesca Hoop (2012).  I think I prefer her solo work to collaborations with Iron & Wine, especially 2017’s “Memories Are Now.”  Elsewhere in pre-Sub Pop work she offers an altogether alternative take on folk music.  These are light synth-rock songs whose vocalist sounds more suited to soulful folk, though of course she can really belt it out when called for.  I think “Peacemaker” is awesomely seductive, with unique structure, vocal harmony, and overall production, and I like the angular, dirty sound and theme of “Dig This Record” a lot.  Each song is distinctively passionate enough that your faves could be entirely different.  Not sure how much promotion she needs (topping 100 user ratings on AMG is usually a disqualification for my recs), but I’ll bet there’s still plenty of folks who’ve never heard (of) her. 

8. “План побега (Plan Pobega/Escape Plan)“ - Обе Две (Obe Dve/Both Two) (2018).  A short and heavily produced pop album, but it avoids obnoxious excess while still being catchy at a slower pace and without ever resorting to a driving dance beat.  Her voice is confident to the point of defiance but very emotional, pretty (as on the third track), and occasionally vulnerable, subject to some studio tricks to transition between tracks but never the scourge of autotune.  As a whole, this subtly shifting vocalist seems as comfortable in Putin’s favorite Abba-esque territory as cool electro R&B, far removed from the Eurotrash nonsense populating most remaining labels.  To be highlighted and praised, unless she’s singing about invading Crimea.   Probably glad I can’t understand the lyrics, so this is the perfect album to imagine pop poetry set to nice melodies for twenty minutes.

9. “Veni Veni” - Helium Vola (2009).  They’ve got several albums, but if you’re not sure whether operatic techno will be something you find novel or hate (there’s not much room for middle ground, as they empty the tank on every song), there’s nothing lower risk than a 99-cent EP.

10. “Adoro” - Sof Tot/Uji (2019).  Soaring vocals in the background and foreground may be high or low in pitch, but these songs are all well produced from top to bottom.  Flirts with hip-hop at times.  She also has an interesting way of starting a lyrical sentence as if speaking but then singing the last word to punctuate, backed by a hypnotic duet of moaning on both “Entrarse” and “Un Paso Más.”  It’s Latin synth-pop, and it’s an inexpensive EP.

No list like this would be complete without soliciting a little mansplaining.  Would anyone like to speculate in the most gender-stereotyping way (or with more nuance and attempts at respect or even drawing actual women into the conversation) about why folks on these music discussion forums (and I’m guessing music obsessives themselves…record collectors almost certainly) tend to be men?  I think I’ve only interacted with one confirmed female here in about half a year but am assuredly not asking all women to declare themselves.  If this isn’t the space to go anthropological, I apologize.

On other lists but worth mentioning & recommending again:  ONUKA.  “Rosa” - Koyari (2017).  13 Year Cicada.  “Twin Earth” - Aphir (2017) https://aphir.bandcamp.com/album/twin-earth.  Holly Golightly.  “One Ethiopia” - Gigi (2000).  


Comments

  • @omnifoo ; Just discovered this post, really enjoying Tragavenao Orquesta Afrobeat, its amazing what a difference it makes having two women share lead vocals makes when they are normally just there as a chorus (& dancers obv.) A pity they seem to have disappeared after two releases.
  • More Synth-Pop w/ Female Vocals (on eMusic & Bandcamp)

    Ladies singing over synthesizers may not be the most original combo anymore, but they remain among the most appealing to me.

    In approximate order of how much I like them, though I’ll say that I like those low on the list quite a lot more than usual for such a big one…

    1. “Quando Brinca” - BEL (2017). Pair this short album with the two-track follow-up “O Gold Que Presta” for a refreshing variety of electronic-backed rock in Portuguese. I’d had the 2019 EP for a long time but balked at going for the full album b/c it sounded a little cheesy in 30-second chunks. I’ve since come around to it in a big way, finding the mix of synths, occasional brass or guitars and backing vocals, plus rhythmic and vocal experimentation just what the doctor ordered to cure dull listening syndrome. None of the tracks linger, the longest being only four minutes, but each is brimming w/ character. https://belbaroni.bandcamp.com/album/quando-brinca

    2. “Spill Out” - MYTBE (2021). This is a great, new 99-cent EP that takes elements of rock, synth and dream pop in equal measure, with a laid back pace. The vocalist is sultry but also a little bored with the mundane, comparable in tone to Mitski, especially on the third track. All the elements take turns in the dim spotlight, and each of the four tracks has its own unique charms, with the finale picking up the pace a bit, only to leave the listener floating on a cloud. https://mytbe.bandcamp.com/album/spill-out

    3. “Madre Salvaje” - Mireia Vilar (2016). Fully twelve minutes longer, a little more rock and less pop than 2019’s equally fine “La Plaga,” your album preference will align with your style preference, as she does both quite well. There’s nothing here I’d consider particularly hard, and her ability to turn on a dime structurally is very much present right from the opening, title track. Her choruses are memorable, too, though overall these are not as catchy as the follow-up album, maybe a result of trimming about thirty seconds off the average run time and mostly ditching the guitar. Surprising use of pedal steel on track 2 is enough to convince me she should stick w/ the old stalwart. “Astronauta Alto” is a mostly acoustic, pretty song w/ cooing “ooos” for a change of pace, nicely followed by the disjointed “Home Balay.” The midsection has an almost tropicalia feel to it, less challenging, more pleasant. “Fulminados” is another highlight for its unhurried, fully realized atmosphere. That’s followed by a duet with a melody out of a video game, but for sheer hummability, it’s hard to do better than the country number “Burbujas de Humo”. The remix at the end affirms that this album does belong on this list. https://lacasacalba.bandcamp.com/album/madre-salvaje

    4. “Wed 21” - Juana Molina (2013). Globally popular, but in the pop-obsessed USA I don’t know anyone who listens to her many unique albums combining the acoustic with the electronic. I’m not a big enough fan to distinguish between her albums, finding each interesting and often pleasant but still a little challenging. https://juanamolina.bandcamp.com/album/wed-21

    5. “TV Watch TV” - SIXI (2017). Surely among Nanjing’s finest bands. Mostly on the side of dancey rock, occasionally with a harder or softer edge, but always with a fascinatingly guileless take on English. Gone with the treasure trove that was Street Voice, not available on Bandcamp or even YouTube, apparently and unfortunately. I saw it listed on Pandora, or if you can navigate in Chinese https://y.qq.com/n/yqq/album/001OO0hP3zLcK3.html

    6. “Diffusion” - Reverbcore (2017). Their name sounds like a diss of the wall of sound style of bands like MBV, but I’d rather listen to this. It’s an alt.-psych rock EP enhanced with twinkling electronics and effects, and there are faint male backing vocals as well. The first song breaks into something like a march in closing. “Tomorrow” is a highlight for me, w/ the vocalist doing a probably unintentional impression of Deerhoof’s vocalist in conversation w/ someone less high-pitched and more world-weary, though plenty will probably just find it shrill or too precious. The whole thing is over almost before you know it, given the brevity of the four songs, but each is effective, moving, and interesting in a fairly unpredictable way. Also just $1 on Bandcamp, and their full albums are worth $3. https://reverbcore.bandcamp.com/album/diffusion

    7. “Trino” - Dulce y Agraz feat. Princesa Alba (2018). Despite also being more rapid-fire lyricists, they’re more interested in harmonizing and extended singing of notes. There seems to be a rule that no song title can be longer than 1-3 palabras, and I doubt that the verse-chorus-verse structures and overtly romantic themes (lots about her corazón and pecho) leave much depth for actual poetry. Nonetheless, these are very pretty, upbeat pop songs with simple accompaniment that never upstage the vocals. Several tracks do have a bit of a build to them, and I’m surprised they’re not popular. Quite pleasant and surprisingly varied for all being between 2:30 to four minutes long, $3.99 price was enough to entice away from starting w/ a 99-cent EP (and several singles are also available, fitting for an artist whose every track is at least a little radio-friendly). No English pandering or cultural crossover attempts here either—it’s all en español. Just not quite as interesting and adventurous as Mireia Vilar, above, unless you’re a harmony junkie.

    8. “В этом мире” - MARIЯ (2020). This begins as little different than stereotypical Russian electronic pop, but there’s clearly more production subtlety involved. There’s an actual dance build to the first track, for one thing. The second track is almost a rock song before it steps back for the quiet parts. And by the middle of the album, the instrumentation goes fully acoustic, quite unexpectedly. Closing tracks are darker, without beats, but not fully brooding https://mariamaria.bandcamp.com/album/--5

    9. “Rebirth” - Mi And L’au (2018). Pulsing vintage synth sounds like Chrome Canyon get the addition of female vocals on this short album or long EP, a great bargain for 99 cents, even though it’s just three remixes of three tracks, with the remixes ordered first, oddly. The original versions are slower, simpler, and done as a duet with a male vocalist in the case of “360.” They’ve got quite an extensive and otherwise expensive discography on at least two labels, The site lists this from 2012, but iTunes says six years later. I’m not sure which full-length album to try next, but it’ll happen.

    10. “S/t” - 75A (2017). A dark, skittering short album or long EP, with breathy singing in Korean and occasional English (as in the jingle snippet on the opening track) is priced acceptably at $3. Your guess is as good as mine what any of it means, but it’s definitely got a certain charm. The second track manages to fit male vocals and guitars into the mix along with a dance beat. The third, “Man Ray System,” is also available as a single, and is slowed down considerably and sung in English, I think, though either the mix or her accent makes it only slightly more comprehensible than the Korean. “Taipei” is a pretty random stream of consciousness, always interesting in a singer’s foreign language, though sad for the recent train accident in Taiwan. Overall, there seems to be an aspiration to be something a Korean Massive Attack, but the execution and variety of backing tracks aren’t quite up to that level. https://younggiftedwack.bandcamp.com/album/75a

    11. “Lejos, No Tan Lejos” - Hello Seahorse! (2010). Over the course of nearly an hour, these songs have a lot of variety and could probably stand alone as instrumentals, but instead there’s a song and constant presence on the mic to carry them into often epic sound territory. There’s an operatic quality to the vocalist here that on one’s first listen can seem mismatched with the jagged rhythms and keyboard accompaniment. At times it can seem like a pop song isn’t what she’s shooting for, but rather something cinematic or to be performed on a grand stage. These often feature soaring high notes over lower humming with just drums and dramatic piano. The title track itself is over ten minutes long, divided in two parts as the end of the album intersperses a lot of silence. The closing tracks are actually lighter, with simpler and sweeter melodies than the shorter songs and a stripped down reprise. Ditto for the finale that goes out with something like a cooing whisper. She reminds me of an album Phil Manzanera did with Tania Libertad called “Boleros Hoy,” which I thought was too cheesy. Thankfully this is closer to rock, but the passionate vocals will make or break it for you. They’ve got a sizable discography if you like it. I think I do. If you’re not sure, their 2009 album “Bestia” is surprisingly only 99 cents (but not as highly rated).

    12. “Ratatatat” - MALKA (2017). This album has an almost but not quite Afrobeat quality to it, certainly trying and often succeeding at being world-pop, but her voice IMHO doesn’t quite seem right for the combination of rhythm and guitars (see also the cover for her 2015 album, playing up her “white girl sings over world music” vibe explicitly). Lyrically, she also sings about lies on two of the three first songs then also another third song entitled “Falling,” suggesting a shallow well of thematic content, whether for limited experience or creativity. I want to like this album a lot more, and it’s by no means bad. I just can’t get the feeling she wants to be a reincarnation of Lizzy Mercier Descloux, who tried her hand at this a long time ago, with more punk cred, and looser, less polished results. She’s got a large discography if singles are included, and I admit to stumbling on her Tantrum Records label on a search many years ago for Ratatat. Just another example of eMusic disappointment leading to interesting alternatives to what you really wanted. https://malka.bandcamp.com/album/ratatatat

    13. “Modo Avión” - O.L.I.V.I.A (2020). Broken down beats that stalk the listener, sneak up on you, and then crash over a slowbuilding synth line, and her vocals can go from angelic to dark from song to song. Apparently from Buenos Aires, or at least the label is. These are a bit more substantial than the average pop songs, with nothing under four and a half minutes, but I gather the singing is meant to be pretty rather than deeply meaningful. Background beats can border on electronic noodling at times, but I’ll sure take it over the overused alternative. This is a good case for the importance of a price point: for 99 cents on eMusic I really enjoyed this EP, but for $8 I’d probably feel short changed, as I doubt I’d give my favorite bands $8 for under 15 minutes of music. https://agvarcrds.bandcamp.com/album/modo-avion

    14. “Flower” - SNSKRT (2020). A strange title for a dark and mysterious EP on a tiny, new label with beats and melodies that twist around corners pursued by vocals only to end up where one started. Not quite darkwave, I suppose, but the lyrical themes and overall atmosphere aren’t far off, though the penultimate track does lighten up a bit. It’s further odd that the title track, the closer, is an instrumental, and not a great one. I’ve come to expect these kinds of EPs marked as singles to be 99 cents, so the $2.49 price tag seems a little steep. https://snskrt.bandcamp.com/album/flower

    15. “Ilo Lympia” - Camille (2013). Camille doesn’t really belong here, but I won’t be doing an a cappella list for quite a while. Audience participation lovers might find this live set amusing, but I prefer her studio work and kinda kicked myself for not doing due diligence to know this is a concert recording. At an hour and a half, it’s still pricey at $5.99. To find her albums, a / has to be added after her name. I’d wholeheartedly recommend “le fil”, even for a whopping $7. It would easily top this list despite being folksy. Her live work shows what kind of a playful, whimsical person she is on stage (and maybe in real life), but her vocal experimentation can be better appreciated in a more controlled setting, IMO.

    16. “Дура (Deluxe Version)” - Моя Мишель (Moya Mishel) (2015). This EP had been on my wishlist for years, and I always passed over it for being too straightforwardly pop. That may be true, and the two remixes don’t really add much to my enjoyment. However, I think “Посмотри в глаза” is also one of the most upbeat and original-sounding pop songs I’ve heard from Russia. Overall harmless and just the right level of obnoxious faux disco.

    Bandcamp Only: “La fille tatouée” - Opaleene (2020). I believe this was NYP at the time I bought it, but it has since been split into individual tracks, unfortunately. The full album is nine tracks, with the last two being demos of songs not on the album. The opener has the dark electronic brooding of trip-hop, comparable to the best work of Autour de Lucie, but updated for the 21st century. https://opaleene.bandcamp.com/music

    “Les miettes dans le fit” - Pipi Caca (2019). La Souterraine must be among the best labels operating on a NYP basis in any language. This one’s based on understated hip-hop beats, but although the vocals here have some soul to them, I’d still call this synth-pop rather than R&B, but you might disagree. There’s some spoken word behind the singing, but the songs are light overall, often w/ whimsical or a little cheesy keyboard melodies that contrast w/ the beats, and decidedly not rap or even hip-hop really. The latter third or so of the album goes more ethereal and slower paced, even further de-emphasizing rhythm. Going scatological with the band name is cheeky but might well repel some listeners. https://souterraine.biz/album/les-miettes-dans-le-lit

    “DAMAGED” - 75A (2014). A couple of tracks from the other album by them on this list doesn’t make this less enjoyable. Her vocals are low in the mix, but that’s fine. NYP. https://younggiftedwack.bandcamp.com/album/damaged

    Rather than reposting repeatedly, here’s my lists of what’s left on eMusic: http://www.omnifoo.info/pages/eMuReddit.html

    & by my evaluation http://www.omnifoo.info/pages/eMusic%20Labels.html

    & by genre https://www.emusers.net/forum/discussion/comment/94512/#Comment_94512

  • edited August 1
    Great list. I wanted to add two female singer led bands: 

    Further by Intimate Stranger (with several other albums on emusic). Chilean shoegazing rock. Just started listening, love this sound. 

    Embeleso by Nikola. 99 cents, 5 tracks. Very slow dreampop with almost dissonant arrangements from Dominican Republic. Nikola has a lovely voice , very easy to listen to. Like a very mellow Nelly Furtado on downers. The songs are not very melodic, and her voice just warbles all over the place.

    Homework by Coals. 1.49 for 15 minutes, 4 tracks. Polish soul. Too bad that only this album  available is on emusic; several other albums are available elsewhere. 

    I also count as a big fan of Hello Seahorse..  Update:  I'm  also enjoying the Quando Brinca pieces by Bel. Each track seems insubstantial and almost hesitant, but all are unique. 



  • Thanks for these additions!  I'll check them out and wishlist appropriately.  Hello Seahorse was definitely one I hesitated on buying after sampling, but after hearing a couple full albums I've come to appreciate a lot.
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