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Julia Holter

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These days, there’s as strong a movement of adventurous, art-minded women songwriters as ever, with Julia Holter finding her place alongside the likes of Grimes, Julianna Barwick, and Yamantaka//Sonic Titan in the vanguard. Of this cohort, the L.A.-based Holter might not only be the most mercurial artist of the bunch, but also the most artistically rigorous. For sure, Holter can hash it out with the best of ‘em when it comes to music theory and composition—she’s a grad of CalArts—but what wins the case for her is a whimsical tone that gets to the heart of the human dimension of her high-concept art-music. So while it’s her formidable skills for putting classical instrumentation into dialogue with state-of-the-art electronics that grab your attention on her breakout work Ekstasis, what holds it is a poppy undertone to the music that’s irrepressible, most often bubbling up in her melodically true vocals. Holter shows that avant-garde music might take a little more effort to penetrate, but at their core, experimental forms are meant to get at new kinds of experiences that are all too human. Arnold Pan


Photo: Emma Garr


Father John Misty

It may be cheating to call Father John Misty new, since J. Tillman—the man behind the moniker—has been putting out solo records for years (and he drummed for some band called Fleet Foxes). But with the change of name came a re-invention of writing and sonic palate for Tillman, and the shift was charming, darkly funny, and downright miraculous. Turning away from the bleak folk of his solo records, Father John Misty comes off as both earnestly heartbroken and a hilarious send-up of the folk troubadour and artist. When he admits “pretty soon I’ll be breaking things like Howard Hughes” or bemoaning his clichéd decision to write a novel, you see him poking at the notions of the tortured artist, and he does it by taking us through all kinds of genres, from barroom-country-blues to seething dream-pop, to tack-piano rags. With his new name, Tillman really did become a new artist, one that refashioned his sweet, melancholy voice into something more charming, and somehow more intimate even as it hides behind jokes. The details are right on, the compositions ornate but never overdone, and the songs themselves—despite their black humor—do have heart at the middle of them, for the history of music, for the struggle to create. Father John Misty may carry the name of a false prophet, but through all his lies and deflections, he accidentally speaks a truth, and sweetly. Matthew Fiander



Purity Ring

If you’ve have an ear to the ground and an eye to the blogs since late last year, then you can’t have missed the hype building around Canadian electro/dream-pop act Purity Ring. Of course, hype only works if you can convert it to genuine acclaim, but with the release of their much anticipated debut Shrines, they’ve proven that they are more than capable of delivering on that early promise. With sonic echos of the Knife and Robyn swirling around them, they inhabit a beautifully conflicted musical landscape that feels joyous, ethereal and unnerving all at once. There have been many bands trying to capture the musical zeitgeist of 2012, but few have got the balance so right, as when Corrin Roddick’s shimmering electronic ambiance interweaves with Morgan James seductive and ghostly vocals. Their music blurs and buzzes with wondrous, glossy, danceable melodies, whilst beautifully dark lyrics (part nursery rhyme, part nightmare) unfold to reveal this duo’s deep and unfathomable centre. Tom Fenwick




We may have first heard Catherine Harris-White and Stasia Irons singing in the background of Shabazz Palace’s excellent Black Up, but when they gave their own soulful, eccentric twist on hip-hop as THEESatisfaction, they drew their own line in the sand, separating themselves with a les chunked-up, more smooth and funky version of soul-cum-rap on awE naturalE. It’s an album that seems content to establish an idea, repeat it a few times, and then move on. But what first presents as A.D.D. or musical schizophrenia becomes, over listens, a careful patchwork of traditions. The rolling pianos and sweet melodies of “Existinct” shifts quickly into the thumping, tensed-up funk roll of spoken-word rap “Deeper”, which shifts into the neo-soul, electro-twisted horns of “Sweat” and so on. THEESatisfaction is a duo that presents sounds you know but turns them ever so subtly—with an electronic tweak, or a clever turn in the beat, or their uncannily smooth shifts between raps and singing—into something that exists on its own plain. New artists sometimes are so intent on paving their own path, they ignore tradition. THEESatisfaction is savvy and confident enough to reshape those traditions into their own sound. And that use of tradition, and re-imagining of it, is what makes the duo so original. Matthew Fiander



Angel Haze

As a self-proclaimed iconoclast, Angel Haze isn’t exactly all that unique in the rap world. Coming into the blogosphere early this year with her clap-driven “New York”, she stated her opposition to the industry without really showing it. In fact, poo-pooing the state of hip-hop and stating confidently that she was going to “change the game” is par for the course. Luckily, however, Haze showed rather than told her worth. With tracks like “Werkin Girls” and “Cleaning Out My Closet” she showed, first of all, that she is an extremely confident lyricist. Unlike a lot of rappers that are eager to prove their lyrical prowess, her self-evident talent speaks for itself, leaving the audience all the more impressed. More importantly, she has a gift for the empathetic and modest thematic presentation, approaching anything from women’s issues to her own childhood rape memories with the same even handed, yet extremely passionate voice. Colin Small

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