This year has brought a palpable power shift in global music. Looking back over Equilibrio’s reviews for the year, much of the best music has come from female artists. This month is no exception with four of our featured artists being solo women or female-fronted bands. Three of these four are also in their 40s. In keeping with the theme we also present a ground-breaking 2012 album from the brilliant Natasha Khan. And if this isn’t enough girl power for you, check out other new releases from Lala Lala, Marissa Nadler, The Joy Formidable, Adrianne Lenker, Yowler and Boygenius. Oh, and St Vincent has released MassEducation, a stripped down version of last year’s huge Masseduction album.
But first, let’s open up with our solitary bloke…
Song: Blowing Up The Congo
From album: La Maison Noir [EP]
Yannick Ilunga describes the music he makes in the guise of Petite Noir as ‘noirwave’. Whether this will take off as a genre with more than one proponent remains to be seen. Never mind though, cause what he does is amazing even if singular. South African raised to Congolese parents, he creates a heady mix of hip hop, dance, kwaito, punk and African tribal to deliver an amalgam that is equal parts cool and chaotic. Latest offering La Maison Noir is sadly only a 6 track EP but as a result there’s no filler here. Ilunga sings in a clear, sweet voice while varied rap guests bring more punch to the mix. He has crafted a set of songs both upbeat and emotionally inspiring as he explores themes of gender, race, identity as a migrant, and political resistance. Blowing Up The Congo probably just edges the others. The accompanying video is over 17 minutes long and backdrops selections spanning the entire EP with beautiful imagery shot in the Namibian desert.
(Also download from the album: Beach, Blame Fire)
From album: Art Of Doubt
Emily Haines fronts Canadian band Metric. Their brand of power pop has proven impervious to the constantly shifting genres around them. As such they have developed something of a never trendy/always cool aura. Formed in Toronto in 1998, Art Of Doubt is their 7th offering. The music has the ease of a band completely comfortable with how they go about their business and has a tight, driven core perfect for open road driving. Mid album highlight Risk embodies this aesthetic perfectly. And No Lights On The Horizon is possibly the best album closer of the year with a chorus clearly aimed at a very special somebody.
(Also download from the album: Now Or Never Now, Holding Out, No Lights On The Horizon)
Song: Missing You
From album: Honey
The concept album was big in the 70s, the era of prog rock dinosaurs where a single song could span 3 sides of vinyl. Killed off by punk, the format is way less prevalent these days and is even more rare in the dance-pop genre. Sweden’s Robyn has never been one to worry too much about current trends and so it is that latest album Honey traces the arc of a single storyline: the thread of a relationship from post-separation regret through to a re-commitment via a very NSFW reunion. Missing You and Ever Again are the album’s opener and closer respectively with titles that clearly indicate what stage of the song cycle they represent. Honey, meanwhile, is the steamy conjugation…
(Also download from the album: Between The Lines, Ever Again, Beach2K20)
From album: Infections Of A Different Kind
Robyn’s Honey is not the only pop-dance album featured this month (see above), in fact it’s not even the only Scandinavian pop-dance album to feature this month. Aurora Aksnes hails from Norway and has just released second album Infections Of A Different Kind. Sitting at the crossover point between Ellie Goulding and Enya, she continues the long line of icy synth pop that only the Scandis seem capable of producing. Churchyard is the 3rd single off the record and starts off all brooding and menacing until the 90 second mark when it bursts into full colour. With another track called Queendom on the album Aurora is a further solid contributor to our girl power theme this month.
(Also download from the album: Forgotten Love, Queendom, Gentle Earthquakes)
From album: Wanderer
America’s Chan Marshall has been recording as Cat Power for 23 years and 10 albums now. Latest album Wanderer comes 6 years after 2012’s Sun. Many of the tracks here feature simple acoustic backing allowing her honey-warm textured voice to shine through. Continuing our theme of women power this month, Stay is her take on Rihanna’s huge 2012 hit of the same name but where Marshall’s vocal subverts the theme from one of begging a lover to stick around to a plea for a suicidal partner to stay alive. She also partners up with current superstar Lana del Rey on the appropriately titled Woman (what could be more empowering than a chorus that simply repeats the word ‘woman’ 12 times?)
(Also download from the album: In Your Face, Black, Woman)
In case you missed it…
Bat For Lashes
From album: The Haunted Man (from 2012)
Bat For Lashes is Natasha Khan. England-born from Pakistani descent, Khan produced 2 albums of high quality alt-pop in the mid to late 2000s, but it was her 2012 offering The Haunted Man that was and still remains her masterpiece. Graceful and elegant, haunting and elegiac, the record also proved to be her major breakthrough. While previous releases were accompanied with the typical synth wash that served as a date-stamp of the era, The Haunted Man is more timeless in approach. Many tracks feature only Khan’s voice and piano (self-taught). Lead single Laura is the pinnacle of this stripped-back approach. Khan sings of the titular character in a voice that swoops and soars and delivers a melody and vocal as good as anything you’ll ever hear. The lyrics also leave a lasting impression on the listener, delivering a hazy melancholy bordering on outright sadness.
On its release, the album cover understandably also drew commentary, featuring a completely nude Khan. Khan stated at the time “I really wanted to strip things back in honour of women like Patti Smith; just these raw, honest women. I had no make-up on, it’s just me and my haunted man”.
(Also download from the album: All Your Gold, Marilyn, Rest Your Head)
(RELATED POSTS: Read more of our music reviews here.)
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