Music

The Best Female Artists of 2010

While the men were showing us their dark and beautiful fantasies, or pulling us into their high brooding violet, the women were absolutely taking over 2010.

While the men were showing us their dark and beautiful fantasies, or pulling us into their high brooding violet, the women were absolutely taking over 2010. And no, I don't meant Sarah Palin's Alaska. As an antidote to the depressing images of women we get in the political world, this year in music has seen a stream of releases by women that are strong and striking. While that may not be exactly surprising, the attention they received, and continue to receive, is worth celebrating. Newcomers, veterans, and downright legends all put out some of their best work this year. We saw ragged-edged rock, protean sci-fi pop, singer-songwriters at their finest and most bare, and sweet soul music to keep our chins up in dark times. These are hardly the only great records we saw from women in 2010, but to me they represent the best of what was an awfully strong year. So while the guys gripe about the suburbs or whatever, dig into ten albums by female artists strong enough to scare the shit out of any momma grizzly.

 

Artist: Joanna Newsom

Album: Have One on Me

Label: Drag City

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US Release: 2010-02-23

UK Release: Import

Review: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/121189-joanna-newsom-have-one-on-me/

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List Number: Honorable Mention

Joanna Newsom
Have One on Me

You got to give Newsom points for ambition here. The 140-minute, 18-track Have One on Me seeks to pull off what most have not in the musical world: the cohesive, consistent triple-album. The results are brave and sprawling, if mixed, but the best moments remind us what's great about Newsom. The heartbreaking coo of her voice on "Baby Birch" or "In California", the experimental piano-pop of "Good Intentions Paving Company", the odd yet affecting take on the Garden of Eden in "'81" -- there's enough expansive and compelling ideas in these songs to see what made her want to keep going down this road to the tune of two-plus hours of music. Of course, it doesn't all match up to those highlights, and falls short of the other records on this list, but Have One on Me still gets the award for most compelling record of the year. Because for all its imperfections, it still shows an original voice taking risks and pushing forward, with a handful of real gems to show for it.

 

Artist: Effi Briest

Album: Rhizomes

Label: Sacred Bones

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US Release: 2010-05-18

UK Release: Import

Review: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/128710-effi-briest-rhizomes/

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List Number: 10

Effi Briest
Rhizomes

Their songs snap in sharp angles, vocals bark down on us from up high, and then there's the fact that they're named after a 19th-century German novel. Considering all that, Effi Briest might seem pretty academic at first sight. Until you hear them. This album churns, sweat-wet and driving, through nine moody and crashing songs. The thick, dripping bass lines soak the dry snap of the guitars and vocals warm into a blistering howl as these four women build this angular, frenetic, often troubling sound and then bed themselves down in it. They're a gauzy rock band, for sure, but they push past their fuzzy contemporaries with a richer palate, and a sound wholly original and not a half-retread of 120 Minutes fare. Rhizomes was one of the most striking and energetic records of 2010, and it only reveals more layers with each listen. Zola Jesus may be the crown of the Sacred Bones label right now -- and rightfully so -- but that doesn't mean she's the only brilliant act in the fold.

 

Artist: Tracey Thorn

Album: Love and Its Opposite

Label: Merge

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US Release: 2010-05-18

UK Release: 2010-05-17

Review: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/126889-tracey-thorn-love-and-its-opposite/

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List Number: 9

Tracey Thorn
Love and Its Opposite

Tracey Thorn is certainly remembered most for her time with electro-pop outfit Everything but the Girl, but Love and Its Opposite rides a quieter, less expansive track. These songs, basically piano-driven songwriter fare, come at us with a spare honesty and a quiet bravery. I say brave because, well, these are modest pop songs about the trappings of middle age. That recipe could risk trudging, but Thorn's sultry voice and precise melodies push the album along with a quiet insistence. Piano balladry like "Oh, The Divorces!" or album standout "Long White Dress" remind us just how much Thorn can emote, hitting the right notes hard and high, and pulling some down into the shadows with her voice's smoky low end. These are songs that cast us into limbo, into missed connections, into whatever love's opposite is -- and it's not something as simple as hate, that's for sure. The bright "Hormones", one of the finer pop songs this year, thumps with lean drums, hinting at passion, but for Thorn, "Yours are just kicking in / Mine are just checking out." Another moment for connection, for a quick burst of lust, is lost. There's hope in this album, but it’s a murky kind, one that needs to be pulled out in shards and reassembled over many listens. So while the album plays it straight, don't expect it to give up all its secrets right away.

 

Artist: Kaki King

Album: Junior

Label: Rounder

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US Release: 2010-04-13

UK Release: Import

Review: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/123763-kaki-king-junior/

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List Number: 8

Kaki King
Junior

Kaki King has spent her recording career trying to reign in her intricate guitar techniques. In the past, it has made for thickly orchestrated and expansive albums, but on Junior King finally finds a direct power to her sound. Rather than fill the space around her guitar with strings and keys, she builds her brilliant, clustered riffs into the songs instead of letting her virtuoso playing stand out above it all. With all this immediacy, she never sacrifices variety either. There's the driving rock of "The Betrayer", the dusty shuffle of the "The Hoots of Hudsmouth", the towering rock theatrics of "Falling Day", and so on. She spends much of the record fascinated with espionage, and it fits her style, because King isn't hiding behind disguises as she shifts moods and genres, she's adopting new lives, blending in with the best of each scene, like she'd been there all along. With Junior, we've seen King's songwriting catch up with her ambitious guitar playing, and the combination makes for a vital, lasting rock album.

 

Artist: Golden Triangle

Album: Double Jointer

Label: Hardly Art

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US Release: 2010-03-02

UK Release: Import

Review: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/122282-golden-triangle-double-jointer/

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List Number: 7

Golden Triangle
Double Jointer

Golden Triangle fits firmly within the lo-fi garage rock movement, but there is plenty in its hefty songs to make the band stand out. Double Jointer plays like a lesson in how to use fidelity, which is to say sparingly. These women don't hide behind the gauze, they cut through it with tight licks and powerful vocals. Either that, or they build on it with more expansive tracks like "Arson Welles" and "Eyes to See". This is garage rock that refuses to fit into the garage. It pushes at those walls, its sound throbbing outward instead of sneering and turning in on itself. Double Jointer sounds like it could have come from any time in the last 20 years not because it is standing on the shoulders of slack-rock giants, but because this is a type of rock music that is timeless. Hooks, power chords, charging drums, furious energy -- these are the weapons Golden Triangle deploys on this record, and the band delivers them with more punch than most.

 

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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