Top 15 Women of 2013: 7 - 1
2013 has seen some superstar releases, but oddly its been the males who have dominated this category. In a year of big ticket releases, only Lady Gaga and Katy Perry really stand on the same platform as Drake, Jay-Z, Kanye, Eminem, Justin Timberlake and co. Despite this, there have been some BRILLIANT releases from our venus counterparts this year, and here are my top 15 so far. Just to qualify, to actually qualify for this award ceremony you need not be an all female band, just have a female lead singer, so bands like múm and Texas are eligible.
7. Natalia Kills - Trouble
"You know what they say about me: 'That girl is a problem'". It's not a particularly decadent statement. Lady GaGa says more in the socks she chooses to wear. Yet Kills sounds sincere, and spends the rest of her record proving it to you. She doesn't seek to offend, it's her honesty that permeates the cliched 'I'm a bad girl' Rihanna rhetoric. In fact she reminds me most of Miley Cyrus. This is what Bangerz should really have been, without all the fanfare, just a chick fucking shit up. Trouble is a call to arms, Rabbit Hole is so catchy I think I scared a small asian lady to death as I danced up and down her store listening to it. Even something like Controversy, a Madonna-esque 'vogue' spoken word delight should sound crap and over-done, 'all the girls are friends with molly', but it doesn't. Natalie Kills is a bad ass.
6. Torres - Torres
Where to start with this.. You know something is good when it sends you down the path of nostalgia. Why, I don't know. She reminds me of early Eurythmics, with the new wave sound removed. It's a deceptively sparse record, it sounds like there is a lot going on but really we're being served up a basic riff and Scott's intriguing vocals. On Jealousy and I she utilises a backing track to great effect, sounding off on herself. You know what it is? She reminds me of a woman I once knew. I won't go in to detail. The most prudent way to describe the image I have of Torres in my head is a middle aged woman, a wonderful woman, beaten down by the world, given up on the world, but able to cast her eyes over her mistakes and address them. Moon & Back is the standout, a track about a baby she gave up in her past. It's a gut wrencher
5. M.I.A. - Matangi
What did you honestly expect from M.I.A.? The last time this woman conformed she broke out in hives. Matangi is a stunner. It's a brilliant fusion of her hip hop cred and a penchant for bringing the insanity. There are African, Middle Eastern and traditional Western overtones. Rather than splashing colour all over the record, these influences deepen the experience. 'Bad Girls', for example, is a slow walk of a beat that mimmicks Paper Planes and utilises a sitar to bring a distinct Indian flavour in the background, 'Chain hits my chest when I'm banging on the radio'. aTENTion, though, is a glitchy 4am tune that sounds like Booka Shade, employs auto-tune and is almost unlistenable, yet the smoothness of the production is such that you become addicted. A great record.
4. Neko Case - The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
If Chelsea Wolfe takes the cake for pure feeling, Case demolishes the left overs. She then turns around and throws up (in a totally classy way, trust me it's been done). Nearly Midnight, Honolulu is an interesting and definitive track. 'They won't believe you, when you say my mother she did not love me, my mother she did not love me' ' Don't you ever shut up' 'Get the fuck away from me'. It's almost as if the pain, suffering and passive aggression is released. She sings with such a sweet demeanour that it's hard to imagine her ever getting angry or upset. Those country roots are so strong, she sounds like Reba on the upbeat Man, and City Swan charges along just as well as anything Tim McGraw has written (I use the term loosely in his case). EVerything that is good and endearing about a young country girl. She'll shot whiskey off your F-250 then sing you to sleep as you cradle the royal doulton at 2am.
3. Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band - TAKE ME TO THE LAND OF HELL
A lot of times I've turned on an Ono song, and immediately had to turn it off, because it just sounds like some crazy lady screaming in a mental asylum. She may not be the most stable of characters, but her commitment to art is well documented, and for the very first time I GET IT!! What a delightful collection of songs these are. From the James Brown FUNK of CHESHIRE CAT CRY to the 70s disco aspirations of 7TH FLOOR, and the crazy Spanish musical trance of LEAVING TIM. 'I'm leaving you Tim, though it's haaaaaaard to believe'. She is 80. on LITTLE BOY BLUE your daddy's gone she shows her age, chastising a younger male, possibly a tom boy lover, with wit and wisdom. Just the sheer weight of ideas and sounds is inspiring, it must be hell being Yoko her mind must be working at a million miles an hour. Of course there are still the orgasmic screams and blood curdling cries, even some sort of wolf mating call. But these are just amusing now when the package is so enticing.
2. Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady
The classiest lady in R & B returns, with massive shoes to feel. The ArchAndroid was a complete trip of a record. A jazzed out funk fest infused with the most irrepressible and enigmatic personality we'd encountered on the charts in years. On the Big Boi track Tightrope she really announced herself as more than a one album weirdo, out-doing her experimental friend and forcing him to bring his A game with a hook that sounded like she was on speed and cocaine and amphetamines and ice and any other stimulant you can imagine. The Electric Lady is a continuation. 'Giving you what you love' she proclaims on the second track (enlisting her closest counterpart, Prince), before a dirty solo guitar riff is plucked out of mid air and joined by a superb horn section. This sets the tone. It's a slower beat, signalling a maturity and progression, yet it still harnesses that inherent weirdness that makes her so exciting. When others show up, like Solange, Miguel and even the iconic Erykah Badu, you can really see Monae show her chops. On the title track she trades off with Solange as the two sisters of the new school of R&B craft an uplifting clutch of horns and harmonising. There's still craziness, Dance Apocalytpic is a childish romp, 'you gotta laugh at the zombie in the front lawn'. Even these moments feel more grown, 'You're not afraid to freak out', implying that rather than being insanely freaked out all the time, like in her previous record, she has moments of clarity and lucidity. Overall? Brilliant.
1. Lorde - Pure Heroine
A friend said to me 'hey check out Royals, it's amazing'. So I did, and it was. And I didn't think any more of it. Until listening to my usual radio program they were talking about who was going to cover for Frank Ocean at Splendour In The Grass. Lorde, that teenager from New Zealand? She only has one song! Once the album came out, it was instant love. Some records take their time, some come and then go, some don't even make it to the party. Pure Heroine IS the party, and the morning after, and the six months after that. Every single track is pretty close to perfect. As a (still relatively) young man, I relate to most of what Lorde is singing about. Young love, awkward social situations, total lack of funds, house parties and good mates. Royals may have been overplayed, but what a song to have to listen to every 3 minutes! 'I'm not proud of my address' 'Every song's like gold teeth grey goose' 'We don't care'. It's not a malicious swipe at today's music, yet it is. What I mean is, her innocence and naivety is pure (see the connection?), so her opinion holds more sway objectively. And she thinks Lil Wayne rapping about Bugatti's is lame. She also happens to be THE COOLEST New Zealander in the world, and as a country they happen to be fucking cool.
Royals is the tip of the iceberg. Tennis Court is a chilled early 00s electronic riff that explodes in to a beautiful melody on the chorus. Team is her 'crew love' moment, a hip hop inspired bump that is tempered by delicate synths as she explains the brilliance of her mates. White Teeth Teens is another classic cool, 'we wouldn't be seen her in the day'. Still Sane sees her voice crashing around your speakers, and her youthful exuberance is soberly presented, 'I still like hotels but I think that will change' ' I'm little but I'm coming for the crown'. There are these pockets of wisdom and insight littered all over Pure Heroine. The production almost eggs her on, urges her forwards when she is slightly unsure of where to go next. The explosion in Tennis Court in to the chorus is a wonderful light shining for her to jump in to. On A World Alone, the background noise is so complimentary of her lyrics you don't even notice it, you're right there on the train or at a corporate luncheon with her. This record deserves close to a 10/10. It's probably the best album of the year.