This month we kick off with new releases from four of the most influential women in the music business today. If that’s not enough you can check out some other trailblazing offerings from the ladies with the latest albums from Norway’s Jenny Hval, Native American Katherine Paul (who releases music as Black Belt Eagle Scout), California’s Taylor Vick (who plies her trade as Boy Scouts), and the first solo outing from Alabama Shakes frontwoman Brittany Howard. Britain is also well represented this month with no less than 5 of our 6 featured artists hailing from Old Blighty.
Lana del Rey
Song: Doin’ Time
From album: Norman F**cking Rockwell!
It’s amazing to think that when Lana del Rey (born Elizabeth Woolridge Grant) burst onto the scene with Video Games in 2011 the primary discourse was around whether she was somehow a manufactured product. Well, 5 incredible albums of increasingly complex and biting music has put paid to that. Norman F**king Rockwell! is her best yet. A sprawling 1 hour opus that meanders beautifully through gentle pop and soft jazz, never more than mid-tempo, with everything underpinned by del Rey’s stunning voice. Deep and resonant, sometimes sounding Xanax-sleepy, she has gradually shifted the lyrical theme over the years from the 50s damsel in distress/awe at the start to a feminist toughness and resilience more befitting of our age. This is music from the darker corners of California. Doin’ Time is the most immediately catchy tune on offer here, probably because of its familiarity. It’s a twisted cover version of the same song by Californian ska-punk band Sublime from 1997, which in turn was a rework of the old standard Summertime by George Gershwin from the 30’s. The video is also brilliant, with Lana the giantess putting a cheating lad properly in his place. Genius.
(Also download or stream from the album: Mariners Apartment Complex, The Next Best American Record, The Greatest)
Bat For Lashes
Song: Kids In The Dark
From album: Lost Girls
Thanks mainly to the Netflix smash hit Stranger Things, there is something of an 80s revival going on. And it’s with a narrow focus too – think of the kid-starring horror flicks from a director like John Carpenter or some of the early Spielberg thrillers, and you’re in the zone. While the pitch-perfect soundtrack to the Netflix TV show is all new material, it sounds exactly what we might imagine synth-heavy tunes from that era/genre ought to. In a very unexpected turn, this is the sound that Britain’s Natasha Khan (aka Bat For Lashes) aims for on her 5th album Lost Girls, drawing inspiration from 80’s go-to soundtrack producer John Williams. What is even more unexpected is the stunning result this yields. Khan sounds revitalized on this album and has produced some of her most poppy and intriguing work. Even certain of the lyrics are on topic, with tracks bearing titles such as Vampires and Safe Tonight completing the horror-theme. Interestingly, Khan also produced the soundtrack to this year’s BBC mini-series Requiem, a supernatural thriller, for which she won an Ivor Novello award. So who knows, maybe this signals a more permanent directional shift? Unlikely, but nice to imagine nonetheless.
(Also download or stream from the album: The Hunger, Mountains, Desert Man)
From album: Charli
England’s Charlotte Aitchison may have kicked off her music career as more of a background player, penning hits for others including the breakout smash I Love It for Icona Pop. But that beginning feels to be way behind us now and it’s almost impossible to imagine that the beautiful, sassy, talented and smart Charli XCX would ever have chosen to be anywhere but directly in the spotlight. Her first solo outings were the places where she housed her more experimental fare, gifting other artists with the instant hits. But no more. While 3rd album Charli still contains its fair share of edgy works, it is dominated by some huge dance-pop numbers. Her choice of collaborators speaks to her considered approach to radio-ready music though. Take lead single and album standout Gone for instance. A duet with Christine and the Queens’ Heloise Letissier (herself also one of the new breed of do-it-your-own-way talents in global pop), Gone is a tune about the bogus sincerity of the hangers-on who attach themselves to the newly famous. Hardly the unchallenging ‘love found/love lost’ lyrical concerns of the previous Britney/Xtina generation for sure.
(Also download or stream from the album: 1999, Blame It On Your Love, Official)
Song: Side Effects
From album: Forevher
Completing our round-up of 4 very strong and individually minded, super talented female artists to listen to this month is Shura. Much like her 3 compatriots, Shura is not her birth name. But unlike the others, England’s Alexandra Denton sings from the perspective of an unflinching lesbian woman. She sees no reason to hide her sexuality in an attempt to boost her popularity in a hetero-dominated music buying community. The go-to neutral pronoun route is ditched, so no more ‘you’ and ‘they’ are to be found here; instead these become a full-blooded ‘she’ and ’her’. Unlike Marika Hackman’s steamy approach to girl-girl attraction (see last month’s reviews), Shura prefers a more subtle and romantic, love-first approach fuelled by her current long-distance relationship across the Atlantic. The backing follows suit, delivering the listener a calming and warm string-laden sound that is somehow transportive. Fantastic stuff and a huge leap forward from her debut.
(Also download or stream from the album: Princess Leia, Skyline Be Mine, Religion (U Can Lay Your Hands On Me))
Song: Salted Caramel Ice Cream
From album: Metronomy Forever
This is my 6 year old daughter’s current favourite tune and is therefore on endless repeat in my home. And for good reason too; what’s not to like about a bouncy Prince meets Italo disco dance track. And any chorus that showcases a yummy desert confectionary is a sure winner right? But look beneath the surface and this is more than a simple toddler’s delight. Indeed I’m grateful that the sexual yearning expressed within gets disguised via a number of slick double entendres that aren’t particularly subtle, but are probably safe in the pre-teen world. Metronomy is led by Joe Mount, who is perhaps better known as a writer and producer for others, including Robyn’s fantastic Honey album from last year. He tends then to use the band as his more fun plaything. Indeed, Mount created the latest Metronomy album totally on his own so it’s basically a solo offering. But that doesn’t stop him from continuing the maximalist, all neon-coloured approach of his band. Indeed, this is almost giddy in its excitement and wildly diverse in its ambitions. Widescreen alt-pop music at its finest.
(Also download or stream from the album: Insecurity, Upset My Girlfriend, Lately)
Song: Nobody Else
From album: The S.L.P.
The initials S.L.P. are an abbreviation of Sergio Lorenzo Pizzorno’s name. Pizzorno in turn is better known as the chief songwriter and notes-player for English alternative outfit Kasabian. In an attempt to avoid becoming a self-parody, Kasabian of late have attempted to change things up and find a new direction, but in the process seem to have somehow lost what made them great in the first place. A solo venture from Pizzorno was thus probably due, allowing him to stretch out and experiment and, dare we say it, get some sh*t out of the system. The surprise then is just how good this album is. There are tracks that sound like ‘classic’ Kasabian (Lockdown, Soldiers 00018), and songs that evidence a completely new approach (the hip hop of Favourites, the drama and grace of the thematically-linked musical interludes & instrumental passages). But best of all are those tracks that sit somewhere in-between these (Nobody Else, ((trance))). Pizzorno takes the vocal duties on for most of the album and its interesting how similar he sounds to Kasabian frontman Tom Meighan. One day I’ll find the time to write a piece on a theory I have that second singers in a band sound increasingly like the lead after being together for many years (take Depeche Mode and REM as other examples). I suspect Pizzorno will return to his day job after this, hopefully freeing up Kasabian to return to the stompers of yore like Fire, which even became the Premier League soundtrack tune for a while.
(Also download or stream from the album: ((trance)), Lockdown, Soldiers 00018)
LISTEN TO OUR PLAYLIST
You can listen to previews of each track by clicking on the icons next to the song titles below.
If you have iTunes and an Apple Music account, you can listen to the full songs and add the playlist to your library. Simply click on the Apple Music icon or sign in.
(RELATED POST: NEW MUSIC REVIEW & PLAYLIST SEPTEMBER 2019)