HEAR THEM ROAR
An article about female vocalists for The Other Side magazine.
Let it not be said that we are short of talented female vocalists. Nathan May goes in search of the xx chromosome factor.
2011 has been a bumper year for original music, and a number of leading ladies have driven the initiative. It has not always been this way though, too often in the past the ellusive front woman has been crammed into a pop pigeon-hole. There are notable exceptions to this rule of course. The likes of Kate Bush, Bjˆrk and PJ Harvey have stood out from the crowd of manufactured girl bands, botox and hot pants. 2011 has seen the aforementioned holy trinity return with albums, instantly enveloped in mass acclaim. Joining these three wise women this year has been a new class of quirk-pop heroines. All three unique and talented in their own way, yet seem united in their quest to unearth the darker side of pop. The sound is haunting, these are women with a voice, and not a pair of gold sparkly hot pants in sight.
Katie Stelmanis is the former student of opera, turned goth-tinged electro queen, behind 2011ís new outfit Austra. Hailing from Toronto, the band released debut album Feel it Break earlier this year. Mixed by Damian Taylor (Bjˆrk, The Prodigy, Unkle), the albumís haunting synths draw immediate comparisons to Fever Ray (another quirk-pop female worthy of note). Yet further inspection will belie those initial associations and reveal the cleanliness of synth riffs that delicately intertwine with the light drum arrangements, bubbling rather than booming.
The overriding element at work here is Stelmanisí cut-glass voice. Its icy, high-pitched tone is reminiscent of another well-known Kate. Delivered with a theatrical intensity that would aptly accompany ëwindy moorsí, to use the parlance of the great Ms Bush.
It is fair to say that the albumís big hitters align to top on this offering, with ëDarken Her Horseí, ëLose ití and ëBeat and the Pulseí being the stand-out tracks. But this will be enough to have you hooked on Austraís ethereal tones, and if you find yourself craving for more, check out Death in Vegasí latest offering, ëYour Loft My Acidí, which has unashamedly bottled Stelmanisí voice, looped it, and sat back in euphoric pleasure.
2011 represented a significant leap forward for Zola Jesus, the stage name of Russian American singer/songwriter Nika Roza Danilova. After 2010ís release Stridulum II propelled Zola Jesus onto the iPodís of many a London blogger with firm favourite ëNightí, the follow-up Conatus released this year was anticipated with considerable levels of excitement.
Although not as immediately arresting as some of the successes on Stridulum II, Conatus proved to be equally emphatic in parts. ëVesselí and ëSeekirí are of particular note, with Danilovaís imposing vocals weaving, but never wavering, between complex synth arrangements.
As a live spectacle, however, Zola Jesus was a little disappointing in London this year. The live show was played out in dingy venues with insufficient sound systems, often failing to do Danilovaís astonishing vocals any real justice. But expect that all to change as Ms Danilova continues to belt out powerful goth-tinged anthems. Further success will undoubtedly bring her back to London, probably replete with a laser light show and zombie outfits for the lads at the back on keyboards.
A suitably ambiguous album title, check (W). A unique stage presence, check (will a bizarre prosthetic nose do it for you? I think so). A previous collaboration with an uber-cool electro outfit, check (Planingtorock worked with The Knife on operatic effort Tomorrow, In a Year). And finally, a background in some art-based goings-on overseas, check (Planningtorock was born out of a Berlin-based art collective). But wait, the lead singer is one Janine Rostron, from, wait for itÖ Bolton.
Which makes 2011ís W seem even more impressive. ëDoorwayí, ëManifestoí and ëIím Yr Maní get the album off and running at a blistering and somewhat terrifying pace, with booming bass and deeply distorted vocals, and by the time the albumís masterpiece ëThe Breaksí drops, you are already immersed in the uncomfortable world of Planningtorock. W finally releases you from its grip after a dozen tracks, and you will come up gasping for air and desperate for more. Alas, when 'more' will come, I know not.