When Beyonce said that girls run the world earlier this year, it was cute, but no one believed her.
As 2011 comes to a close, we have to reevaluate that statement. Girls still don’t run the world, but they sure did run music this year. I can’t say I’ve ever seen so many female artists doing really remarkable things at the same time. If you look beyond the Goodbye Lullaby’s and Born This Way’s of the year, albums that came with plenty of fanfare but only a few good songs, you will uncover a plethora of quality albums made by women or female fronted ensembles.
Unfortunately the ladies of Hip-Hop didn’t stand up. Hell, they didn’t even sit up. After an exhaustive search, I couldn’t find one female-fronted rap album made this year and that’s unfortunate. With the pop monster swallowing urban music whole, their lack of participation is discomforting.
Anyway, the rest of the musical spectrum is fairing much better. Rock, in all its incarnations, from punk to progressive, really saw some phenomenal work from the fairer sex, as did pop, R&B and the electronic realm. This is a ladies only affair, but many of these LP’s will be incorporated into lots of best album lists. Some of them are that good. Who runs the world? Girls!
Tune Yards – Whokill
Merrill Garbus is odd and unconventional. Her first album BiRd-BrAiNs was captured on a hand held recorder and released on cassette tape… 2 years ago. Since then she has managed w h o k I l l, a great blend of just about every type of music you’ve heard and some you haven’t. Once you get past the unique tracks, there is Garbus’ rich, quirky voice and her unique view of discord in humanity. All together, they make for an interesting and funky listening experience.
Le Butcherettes – Sin Sin Sin
The live show with all the blood and such is a bit much, but when you strip away the theatrics from this Mexican punk outfit you’re left with some hard edges tempered with feminine vocals and a grand talent for shtick. Front woman Terri Gender Bender brings upper level thoughtfulness while maintaining the gritty attitude that rounds out the sound.
Adele – 21
21 is sad, beautiful, well-produced and wonderfully articulated. It’s a collection of messy, after-the-storm fables that chronicles a really bad trip to Splitsville. Adele doesn’t seem to have learned anything, but maybe this is a lesson one can pick up vicariously. If you can deal with how morose the album is, it’s definitely a lovely ride.
Strange Mercy is a verdant offering that piles wispy vocals on top of an ever-changing sonic palette without it feeling overwhelming, at least not in a bad way. Annie Clark’s penchant for ambiguity makes for interesting exploration of her words and the moody setting adds to the possible profundity of it all. St Vincent may have cut her teeth with some imaginative acts, but with Strange Mercy she proves her talent is in a class all its own.
Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
Wounded Rhymes is rage, melancholy and malevolence all wrapped in an odd little package of indifference. It’s an oxymoron, but nonetheless something Lykke Lil was able to accomplish. She is sexy and naïve. Intense and apathetic. It’s a place a bad romance will take you to. Just ask Lady Gaga. The production is a hazy miasma of pop’s highest and darkest order. Pounding drums, crying guitars and reverb buoy the emotion while Li opens up the wounds.
Marsha Ambrosius – Late Nights Early Mornings
Marsha’s post Floetry debut release is a brilliant mix of sex, emotion and vulnerability that most female artists can’t seem to balance. It’s a remarkable feat considering Ambrosius wrote and produced a good portion of the album. Or maybe that’s why it isn’t a feat. A woman writing her thoughts and crafting her sound without outside influence from people who don’t get where she’s coming from is probably what throws most of these female helmed releases out of sync. Ambrosius however, keeps it steamy without being tawdry while her voice conveys a laid back power most songstresses could only dream of. “Your Hands” is a perfect example of it all.
PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
The thoughtfulness of this album hangs heavy, but there is beauty in the melancholy of Let England Shake. Harvey goes from introspective to more of a broad stroke for her 10th album as she looks back at the good the bad and lots of ugly in England’s past, especially its participation in WWI. It’s a bleak chronicling of the horrors of battle and the price humanity paid afterwards. And she wraps this theme in a sonic package that at times is as upbeat as she is morose. In a music world where plenty believe pussy empowerment is the ultimate in lady artistry, this is such a welcome concept.
Nneka – Soul Is Heavy
Nneka has been serenading us with her reggae soul rap for years but her turn at the front of a fickle American market just hasn’t come yet. This is what MIA would be if she was a little more committed to the cause and what female rap should be if well… females were rapping. The breathy whisper with a kiss of Randy Crawford over a potpourri of wonderfully combined genres makes Soul Is Heavy hard to label. It also makes it hard to turn off.
Lungs, Florence + The Machine’s debut album, could have been bombast but Florence Welch along with her star-studded array of producers turned it into a sonic mix of huge and wonderfully manicured proportions. Following that was no easy task and one ripe for sophomore slump status, but damn is this girl didn’t continue forward, bigger, badder and yes LL, deffer. Ceremonials is brilliantly baroque but not over worked. It’s a sassy, heady balls out exclamation that quiet book worm is not always your favorite nerds calling. Welch is a confessed dweeb, but her music is the life of the party. Am I gushing? Yes, but it really is that good.
Zola Jesus – Conatus
Niki Roza Danilova’s brand of electronic goth-pop could be seen as shtick if the music wasn’t so evocative. The dust she kicks up from her self contained and ominous world is mesmerizing, reminiscent of the cold existence big brother provides for his minions in 1984. This is synth-heavy construction that begs you to put the glow sticks down so it can lull you into a trance. Danilova’s robust pipes are just the icing on the cake. You don’t always know what she saying, but with the emotion she’s able to present simply with tone and tenor, you don’t always need to.
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