Remind Me Today
IN THIS PHOTO: Billie Marten/PHOTO CREDIT: Lauren McDermott
2019 and the Dominance of Female Artists
ONE can overlook and forgive…
IN THIS PHOTO: Madonnatron/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
the fact that, at various points this year, I have talked about the prominence and dominance of female artists. Clearly, there is still massive inequality in the music industry: the quality female artists are putting out is not being matched with focus and appreciation by those making decisions. If you look at the best albums of this year, in my view, the majority have been made by women. From Stealing Sheep’s Big Wows to Madonnatron’s Musica Alla Puttanesca, there have been some terrific releases. In fact, those two albums I have just mentioned are superbly underrated and terrific albums that have definite bounce, colour and beauty. They are complex albums but make you feel better and nourished. Throw into the mix the recently-released forevher by the excellent Shura and there are these wonderful albums out there not getting the credit they deserve. Shura’s latest album is free, spirited and ecstatic. On it, Shura details falling in love and the rush from that feeling. It is full of memorable tracks and I love the 1980s-inspired sound. If I had to list all the best albums from women this year then I would be going for a long time! I have mentioned a few albums that you need to get; some that have not got the acclaim and focus they warrant. One of my favourite albums from this year is Remind Me Tomorrow by Sharon Van Etten. This is Van Etten’s fifth studio album and, released in January, it kicked 2019 off supremely!
Singles such as Seventeen and Comeback Kid are among the best I have heard from Van Etten - and she has hit a new peak. When reviewing the album, Pitchfork had this to say:
“…And yet, Remind Me Tomorrow is not unyielding. It is the peak of Van Etten’s songwriting, her most atmospheric and emotionally piercing album to date. Often when it concerns love, it’s about how tentative it feels: “Turning the wheel on my street/My heart still skips a beat,” she sings on “Jupiter 4” (named for the synthesizer behind much of the album), a whirring dirge filled with ghostly cries and thunderclaps. “You’ll run,” she sings on “Memorial Day,” drawing out the words into a narcotic, sparkling haze. The album’s truest love song, “Malibu,” relishes the memory of a carefree romantic holiday, but Van Etten still highlights the transience of driving down the coast in “the little red car that don’t belong to you”.
Unlike a lot of Pop albums, Self Esteem can be relied upon to push musical boundaries and give the listener some genuine range and quality. The moniker of Slow Club’s Rebecca Taylor, Compliments Please is a huge album that, for some reason, was nominated for this year’s Mercury Prize. Maybe it was in the judges’ thoughts, but one cannot deny Compliments Please is one of 2019’s best from a superb artist who is among the most original around.
Taylor is brilliant when it comes to subverting Pop conventions and emotional limitation; songs that are full of character and spirit – I would expect Self Esteem to be a festival fixture next year. Before mentioning a few widely-mentioned albums, I want to discuss one of my favourite artists. Billie Marten staggered me on her 2016 debut, Writing of Blues and Yellows. Her Folk-cum-Indie blend is beautiful, and her voice is one of the most arresting around. If her debut was closer to home (Yorkshire) and her teenage observations, Feeding Seahorses by Hand is a more eclectic, wide-ranging and mature album, perhaps – Marten now resides in London and the album seems to reflect someone tackling city life. Marten is an artist who creates such intelligent and moving songs, and yet you do not hear her on the radio as much as you’d expect. It is a shame, but one needs to check out her music and see what I mean! Jamila Woods’ LEGACY! LEGACY! is an album dedicated to pioneers of colour – each song features a different role model as the focus. It is, perhaps, my favourite album of this year and I adore Woods’ voice. It is hard to ignore the importance of LEGACY! LEGACY! and power. Here is a sample review:
“Almost every predecessor conjured in and in-between Woods’ lyrics balanced their craft alongside an unending fight for total equality, whether they wanted to or not: “All the women in me are tired” becomes a running motif throughout the album. With LEGACY! LEGACY!, Jamila Woods positions herself to join the battle, bridging the gap, once and for all, between our unresolved past and the promise that awaits us all on the horizon”.
IN THIS PHOTO: SASAMI/PHOTO CREDIT: Alice Baxley
Before I mention other year-owning albums, one cannot help but ignore upcoming artists like SASAMI and Liz Lawrence; Tierra Whack, Sampa the Great and girl in red. Throw into the mix names like HALSEY, IDER and Girl Ray and, without digging that deep, you can see what is on offer! I will end with a playlist that collates the artists I have mentioned. Solange’s When I Get Home ranks as one of the year’s best and, whilst it is not as acclaimed as her previous album, A Seat at the Table, it is a fantastic record and one that spills over with brilliance. Here is how AllMusic assessed the album:
“Certain tracks offer little more than riffing and moodscapes, yet all 19 are shaped into a concise flowing whole with subtle twists and turns. Smoothest of all is the point where the bewitching and beatless "Jerrod," on which "Come and say the word and you know you gon' hit it" is sung in the most tender way imaginable, shifts into the steady-rocking "Binz," allowing Solange to wind up her waist and get gleefully materialistic with the-Dream in tow. Relatively drastic is the switch from the chugging "all black (and brown) everything" exultation "Almeda," also featuring Dream, into the aching and intimate "Time (Is)." Separation of the two songs is nonetheless unimaginable. Just as skillfully latticed is the large assortment of artists honored through evocation, collaboration, and sampling. The cleverest placement might be the sampled gospel group singing "Please take the wheel forever." In the context of When I Get Home, their devoted appeal takes on a literal meaning while losing none of its redemptive intent”.
I have mentioned the variety and range from female artists but, to me, there is this crop of young songwriters we need to watch out for. Billie Eilish is an artist (rightly) attracting a lot of attention right now. Her album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, is so confident and compelling one can hardly believe she is a teenager! Her brand of Pop is darker and more experimental than a lot of the mainstream and, at a time when there is so much stagnant Pop around, Eilish is a definite breath of fresh air! I predict great things for her and feel she will be a festival headliner very soon – she went down a storm at Glastonbury and has an enormous fanbase. Lizzo’s third album, Cuz I Love You, is full of sass, energy and bangers. It is an album that has heart and emotion but, if you want to feel good and enriched, put this album on. Like Eilish, Lizzo is an artist storming festivals and getting a lot of love. Not only has Grimes released a new single (Violence) but, when thinking about singles and albums coming up, it enforces my view that women are making the best music around. I shall allude to that but, rounding off the best albums of 2019 so far and one must acknowledge Lana Del Rey’s Normal Fucking Rockwell! It has just been released and, as with any Lana Del Rey album, there was a lot of hype and build.
In the case of Norman Fucking Rockwell!, the attention and praise is right on the money. It is a fantastic album and one that has accrued a lot of big reviews. Here is NME’s assessment:
“Then, there’s the little utterances that are littered throughout the record that you wouldn’t bat an eyelid to with anyone else but feel odd given how closely linked the person singing them here is with nostalgia and vintage Americana. On ‘The Greatest’ (maybe one of the greatest songs she’s ever written), she sings, “the culture is lit and I’ve had a ball” in a tone that could be incredibly sincere or eye-rolling sarcasm. As the album comes to an end, she throws in a quick nod to modern technology, purring, “Hello, it’s the most famous woman you know on the iPad” on the tender waltz of ‘Hope Is A Dangerous Thing For A Woman Like Me To Have – But I Have It’.
That she veers from the ultra-modern to references to Sylvia Plath and photographer Slim Aarons, and from Laurel Canyon folk to trembling psych solos, on an album named after American author and illustrator Norman Rockwell only seem to prove the point she’s trying to make in her Twitter bio. Lana Del Rey is large – she contains multitudes, and the way she balances and embodies them on her fifth album is nothing short of stunning”.
IN THIS PHOTO: Little Simz/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
I shall wrap up soon but, before nodding to some big albums yet to come, I want to name four more albums that have made a big impression. Little Simz has been Mercury Prize-nominated for her album, GREY Area, and one can see why! It is a huge release and one that is among the absolute finest of this year. It is an album that is personal and real but looks at the outside world. At a time when we are facing crisis and division, Simz beautifully documents the modern world with just the right balance of anger and compassion. This is The Independent’s review of GREY Area:
“Simz flips between two tones: bristling and unapologetic, and warm and reflective. “Offence” is the former, with tongue-in-cheek bars that have her hailing herself as “Jay-Z on a bad day, Shakespeare on my worst days”. So, too, is “Boss”, with its killer bass hook and distorted punk vocals. Elsewhere, she considers the impact of her own ambition: “Wanting to be legendary and iconic, does that come with darkness?” she asks on closer “Flowers”, reflecting on her idols Jimi Hendrix and Amy Winehouse.
There’s another subtle nod to Winehouse on “Therapy”, which is anchored by her extraordinary bass player, in the way it recalls the late artist’s biggest single “Rehab” on the chorus. Simz has said making this album felt cathartic. “Selfish” assesses her independence, while “Boss” lets rip at the man/men who disrespected her. “Venom”, which opens with a shiver of violins, is so menacing you wonder what kind of fool would dare to get in her bad books. What Simz does here is phenomenal. This is an album – and artist – to cherish”.
I lied when I said I only wanted to mention four more album. Julia Jacklin’s Crushing is a beautiful, personal and revealing collection that will speak to so many people. I urge people to check it out because, in my opinion, Jacklin is one of the most accomplished songwriters in the world. Another artist who can buckle the knees with her gorgeous voice and exquisite songwriting is Lucy Rose. Forgive me, again, if I am repeating myself but I think these incredible artists deserve a lot of praise – not in a mansplaining way: I am highlighting the fact women are creating some of the best music around and, as sexism and inequality remains, we all need to do a lot more. No Words Left is stunning record and I would say it nestles somewhere between Billie Marten and Julia Jacklin when it comes to feel and tone. Sleater-Kinney recently lost their long-term drummer Janet Weiss but, on the last album she released with them, you can witness something immense. Produced by Annie Clark (St. Vincent), it is a slightly different direction for Sleater-Kinney. The Center Won’t Hold is one of my favourite albums from the year and I especially adore the track, Hurry on Home. I wonder where Sleater-Kinney will head and whether we will hear another album – I am sure we will see one. Jenny Lewis is an artist who has been on the scene for a while but, on her latest album, On the Line, she has crafted her finest work.
In this review from The Telegraph, they get to the core:
“By the album’s conclusion, Lewis has renounced both love and drugs. “Bad habits will be broken/ Boy, I have kicked a few/ And seven days off the dope and I’ll be good as new,” she sings on the trippy Rabbit Hole.
As break-up albums go, the mood is remarkably positive. Lewis’s mother (a long-term heroin addict) died from cancer during recording and chances are you will never hear such a spirited, upbeat elegy as the groovy Little White Dove (one of three tracks produced by Beck with Jim Keltner on drums). There is nothing ground-breaking here, and Lewis pays not even the faintest lip service to contemporary pop trends. But if you like quality songwriting delivered with panache, On The Line is on the money”.
It has been a really strong year for music and, with a few months remaining, who knows what we can expect. Pitchfork have selected a few albums we need to get involved with and, with released from Kim Gordon (No Home Record – 11th October, Matador), Tegan and Sara (Hey, I’m Just Like You – 27th September, Sire); Angel Olsen (All Mirrors – 4th October, Jagjaguwar), Brittany Howard (Jaime – 20th September, ATO); Sampa the Great (The Return – 13th September, Ninja Tune) and Jenny Hval (The Practice of Love – 13th September, Sacred Bones) to come, we have plenty more to look forward to!
IN THIS PHOTO: Sampa the Great/PHOTO CREDIT: Andy Hughes/NME
I would recommend you check out the album and artists I have included as they are among the finest of 2019. I have not even scratched the surface when it comes to the huge singles and newcomers – one can understand I must limit things a bit. How does this all translate into 2020? I do hope there will be improvement regarding women booked for festivals. I keep mentioning how radio playlists are tipped in favour of male artists and, with so many terrific female artists around, I am not sure why there is stubbornness and slow improvement. It is a bit frustrating to see the same problems crop up regarding gender imbalance. In any case, let’s just enjoy the brilliant music that has come through this year. I am really looking forward to seeing what the remainder of 2019 provides because, as I keep saying, this year has been a huge one! I shall end things there, but I feel it is important to revise my feature regarding incredible female artists. From the Folk of Billie Marten to the fire of Lizzo, we have seen so much phenomenal music emerge. At such a difficult time for us all, music provides a form of solace and relief. There is a lot of great music around but, in my view, most is being made by women. For giving the world such captivating, stunning and fascinating music we must give our…
THANKS to them all.