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).