Stina Nordenstam was never going to be a household name. But the highly reclusive Swedish songstress carved a niche for herself so distinctive, she made an art out of art-pop-obscurity. Much of Nordenstam’s power lies not in what is revealed through her music, but what she keeps private, highly guarded and ultimately hidden from the listener. Memories of a Color was a highly notable debut when the album was released in the singer’s homeland of Sweden, but it failed to make a dent or impression at the time in the North American market. Nordenstam has since dismissed the album as being misrepresentative of her art and, therefore, inessential. But Color managed to capture the sweeping mythology of the cold Swedish winters of despair. An album that explored the psychological desolation of a young woman teetering on the brink of a nervous breakdown, it soon gained a following once Nordenstam hit paydirt with her follow-up, And She Closed Her Eyes, a far more realized effort that pared back the grander arrangements of her debut for a purely minimalist approach. Color, however, offered up some of the Swede’s most cinematic and unusual studies in pop music, sketching out chamber dramas of dismal love-stories worthy of Bergman and Sjöman.
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Hannah Marcus’ sorely underrated album, Desert Farmers, yielded a spectacular number called “Hairdresser in Taos”, a nightmarish tune that majestically unfurls to reveal a harsh soundscape of bitter blues and scorched jazz. In the artful mess is a surreal and hallucinatory tale of a drug-addict and his jaded, disillusioned girlfriend setting out across the deserts of New Mexico. Along the way the drug-addict is dropped off and the girlfriend tails a mysterious hairdresser back to his house where she is given a dye-job. At this point, the song takes an eerie, almost sinister turn and Marcus’ unsettling recount that he “stuck my head in the sink and he put red dye all over my hair / and when I sat up it ran into my eyes and I looked in the mirror and I started to cry” is enough to turn the vertebrae to ice. From the moment she flees the house, the panic in the song peaks to a feverish pitch and the sprawling, atmospheric beauty of her nine-minute opus truly blossoms into the masterful study on modern Americana that it is. You don’t just hear this sort of music, you experience it.
Vardar’s first musical outing, a 2008 underground album entitled Piyasanın adamıyım, Piyasaya karşıyım, didn’t generate the kind of response he had hoped for, but it did help him to cut his teeth on the mechanisms of putting an album together. In between composing radio jingles and music for short films, the rapper would take time to regroup and rethink his approach for the far more mature, daring and brazen work that would become Kötü Adam, his first proper commercial debut. Enlisting in the help of some key collaborators (Sinan Ceceli, Serkan Hökenek, Cüneyt Tatlıcı, respectively), Vardar would create a combustible blend of hip-hop and electronica that would melt speakers and rattle ribcages in Lamborghinis and nightclubs all over Turkey. Encompassing both the jetsetter cool reflected in the smooth, diamond-cut beats and the swagger and slang of an urban ghetto, Kötü Adam finds a musical counterpoint of shine and grime. Silver-tongued and sharp-witted rhymes are meted out with force as the rapper covers topics of love, hate, sex and violence in a city of cultural upheaval and harmony.
With Frank Ocean and The Weeknd dominating R&B in a huge way in 2012, expectations are high for any artist attempting to step up to the mic that’s shared with artists as immensely talented as those two. It won’t be long, however, before Arthur Ashin—the man behind the Autre Ne Veut moniker—rises successfully to this challenge with the release of his sophomore album Anxiety, out on February 26th for the Mexican Summer label. The record—an almost impossibly rich and multilayered work of avant-pop and R&B—makes one even question if the term “sophomore slump” has any relevance; Anxiety is such a considerable improvement over his 2010 self-titled debut that at times it’s hard to believe it’s the same artist performing.
The one-time Massive Attack vocalist serves up this slice of electronic-pop as she prepares for her fourth solo release. A chilled layer-cake of flexible, vivacious beats, stiff sour funk and brass-section acrobatics, Nicolette offers a slipstream romance of the merits of positive-thinking and fantasy on “Fascination”. The UK artist has been working steadily and quietly on new material since the uplifting sunburst of 2005’s Life Loves Us, an album of chopped beats and melted funk that was infused with the juice of high, carefree energy.