It's Just Begun
4 Women No Cry is the first in a planned series of annual compilations to spotlight female musicians who operate left-of-center. The vague specification is necessary given that this latest step in demystifying the feminine arrives post-grrrl and post-Lilith, at a time when genre-/gender-specific music-making legacies have been established, yet still face the limitations, frustrations, and contradictions of a predominantly male dialectic. Subsequently, the four musicians spotlighted here are not bound to a specific sound or scene (the one common musical thread is the use of beat programming), but are rather linked by their respective abilities to transcend genre, fuse influences, and/or speak upon them consciously. Although the title 4 Women sounds off like a slogan—as an inversion of the iconic Marley song, a reference to the equally iconic Simone, or a simple pun—the compilation in fact approaches the question of female identity with less brass and fewer restrictions; “Woman” as sex also binds the four, but as gender offers four varying and compelling interpretations. Compiled by the adventurous Monika label, 4 Women is an encouraging step forward in providing a platform for female artists with an even more specified (or less specific?) artistic vision.
Rosario Bléfari appropriately opens 4 Women with an invitation. Incorporating all forms of technology, from industrial (bike bells) to digital (keyboard tones), the Argentinian actress, writer, and singer uses palpable sounds to bring the listener in. On “Partir y Renunciar”, a tense buzzing and a tick-tocking bass guitar establish an urban landscape before cloud-like bass tones and Bléfari’s plaintive voice populate the space with naturalism and humanism. Whether she arranges music instruments or uses found sounds, such as passing trains, bus engines, and church bells, Bléfari frequently returns to specific images from the city, literally crafting music for walking the streets. Her section concludes with the summary “Vidriera Chilena”, an instrumental collage that pieces together a Day in the Life, much like Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera. The singer, actress, and writer chooses to observe rather than declare, thus crafting an aural landscape that any city-dweller can navigate.
If Bléfari’s approach to landscaping is reflexive, then producer and videomaker Natalie ‘Tusia’ Beridze (aka TBA)‘s is more conceptual. Her past work casting her native Georgia as a “spiritual Tokyo” and tracking the “background between such different cultural influences” resurfaces in abstract vignettes, woven seamlessly together into a textual print. Beginning with a cover of the Russian rock group’s classic “Gorod”, Beridze reveals a meta perspective of the past by throwing the song past its roots in the ‘80s—more like 1880s. Like Tarkovsky’s intentional black and green splashes of post-apocalyptic scarring, she uses heavily filtered, delayed, and whispered tones to echo in a chamber of memories, unearthed like a long-forgotten time capsule.
While the bulk of 4 Women is song-oriented, Beridze abstracts and blends her songs to create a sense of totality. Keyboards are drawn out of the cracked edges of “Gorod” like slo mo caresses, as the languid voice on “Cuet” intones in a mumbled drawl, drawing the listener in closer. An Into the Light bass guitar riff takes center stage on “Wound”, though still walking through a constant opium haze. The drama of the bass is subsequently clipped away by the echo of chimes and echoed cymbal hits on “Kursaa”, a track bubbling and percolating with nods to early OMD, but flattened and stabilized by Beridze deadpan. The stuttering percussive effects become a full fledged rhythm on “Hextention”, which marches along in tin man tandem until it stutters and quantizes into the (a)rhythms of “Late.” While the process is technically impressive, it is also highly self-conscious. On “Late”, Beridze stops the track less than a minute in to record herself saying, “Record this part again”, and proceeding to repeat the last riff.
Although Parisian artist Èglantine Gouzy represents another cosmopolitan aesthetic, hers is a sparseness that presents a welcome breath of relief to Beridze’s sense of gravitas. Sweet Dreams synth strings stretch and twist “Eglantine Longe” with silly putty fun, before opening the charming lullaby “Nurse Song.” A sense of open romance permeates Gouzy’s music, as she sings, “Then you met a boy / And you feel so high / Because someone is nursing you now.” However, she also grounds the work in a naturally inflected yet aloof drawl. In this manner, Gouzy consistently establishes balance. “12H12” returns the language to Gouzy’s native French, but also moves forward with progressive sensibilities. Like a basement Björk, the rhythm-heavy track stomps with a steady kick pulse before pittering and scattering snare rolls about to the quickened pulse of stuttering keys and straight bell chimes. “Zone A” strolls romantically with a sporadic string swoop, but mostly to the pulse of a flat kick beat and an up and down bass riff, all while Gouzy’s natural and unforced singing complements these unnatural sounds. Deep bass drums and playful flat drum hits hint at the rhythm, as “Boa” nods by at a sensual roll. Verses roll off like conversation, but Gouzy and an unlisted vocalist provide a contrasting chorus in sharp rhythms. These moments of subtlety and intimacy is truly unlike both the MTV mainstream and Pitchfork elite; it is not music conceived through the cock/clit, but through the heart and intuition.
Austrian musician Catarina Pratter closes the compilation with a sense of polish. A participant in the Red Bull Music Academy and member of 550 Rondy, her tracks fuse high concepts with patiently paced precision and a sense of gloss. “Johnny Isoläschn” establishes a visceral aesthetic with pulsing drums and a consistent loop of backwash. “Dreamin of Love” farts out two repeating tones as Pratter and a pitched-down accompanying voice take a Lynchian cruise down love’s lost highway. Under the call of whoops and droning refrains, “Love” takes a clinical, mechanical approach to hook into the listener’s mind. Pratter inverts pop music by infusing a different sensibility into traditional structure. Both the compilation and Pratter’s set closes with a bolder affront to mainstream ethics on “Stronger Than Before”, a track that snarls with bubbling subterranean bass gurgles, contrasted with spittering hi-hats squeezed out the top, and spackled in the middle with unholy voices, amorphous melodies, and long Dead Can Dance tones on acid. As a stand-alone piece, it is a middle finger, but in 4 Women it also affirms the independence of each of these artists.
The presentation of 4 Women admittedly pits content versus concept. The carnival-style apportionment of (literally) fifteen minutes to each artist is no different than the LollaLilith reductive approach, yet marketable in its bang-for-the-buck method. The approach is troublesome in the compilation’s attempt to present individuals, especially when there are no connections made between the voices (Why are each of these grouped with the other three? They are a) female, and b) left-of-center. Vague enough?). That said, on a purely qualitative level, the compilation succeeds by presenting potent work from four next-to-unknown artists.
However, given the potential this compilation (and, hopefully, like-minded efforts) presents, the question arises: how to build on artist discovery? Should not the goal be artist development, not in the bastardized industry sense, but in that of cultivation? The listener cannot be content to solely remain a consumer (the industry mold), but also reciprocate music production through support and dialogue. In this sense, 4 Women does not appear to be ready to bear the complete burden because of a lack of information on pursuing support for these artists; a simple search reveals an abundance of Gouzy sound samples from this comp, but concrete information is reduced to a barebones entry on a French Friendster for Schoolmates-type site. Pratter’s ‘official’ work within the industry lends her a relatively larger amount of search engine hits, but there is still little information, let alone a means for an international fan to offer support aside from buying Monika’s product. Inversely, being released through a progressive label like Monika with a loyal support base (how many who are familiar with Barbara Morgenstern think she’s ‘just ok?’) offers unheralded opportunities for these artists. Ideally, this exposure will establish a new base of support and encourage them to continue pursuing their art. However, this is only a beginning, and the first step is always the boldest. As Monika founder Gudrun Gut says, “Enough of all these tears. Let’s tear up preconceptions instead!” 4 Women has initiated a new conversation, a necessary one. It looks like it’s up to us to guide it from here.
A remix 12” is also available, featuring remixes by B.Fleischmann (Wien), Ark (Paris), Gustavo Lamas (Buenos Aires), Post Industrial Boys (Tblisi).