Tuning In to Female Artists

Even with the number of quality female (or female-fronted) music artists, there’s still something of an imbalance that generally involves having to delve deeper into playlists or actively seek out female artists. For example, out of 50 songs on Spotify’s “Indie Party Playlist”, I can count the female contribution on my hands.

The main intention of this article is to draw attention to an eclectic mix of female artists—or females who are indispensable to mixed-gender bands—who add something special to the music scene, starting with individual tracks and proceeding to discuss albums/artists.

Sonic Youth – ‘Kool Thing’

Kicking off with an influential band from the ‘90s alternative rock scene, Kim Gordon impressively provided bass, vocals and guitar for noisemakers Sonic Youth. Inspired by her interview with a rapper – in which she struggled to connect with him regarding the feminist & music countercultures that she identified with – Gordon’s powerful vocalisation and experimental guitar slam contribute to stamping all over the incident in ‘Kool Thing’.

Marika Hackman – ‘Ophelia’

As a stark contrast to the former, this folk gem of the indie label Dirty Hit plunges into the deep waters of what is “hiding in the midnight of [the…] soul” of Hamlet’s Ophelia. Softly acoustic and ominously raw, Hackman’s elegiac lullaby is as beautifully dark as the tragedy of its muse.

Pale Waves – ‘Television Romance’

Pale Waves were formed by the soulmate level friendship between frontwoman Heather Baron-Gracie and drummer Ciara Doran, becoming a glitzy indie pop-rock quartet with bassist Charlie Wood and guitarist Hugo Silvani. In Television Romance, the sugary sigh of Baron-Gracie spicily sasses lyrics of rejection over an overall uplifting sound that is reminiscent of The Cure.  

CHVRCHES – ‘Science/Visions’

In this track, a biologically pulsing beat is juxtaposed with the gloriously transcendent soul of abstract lyrics, lifted by Lauren Mayberry’s sublime singing. I feel that the title lures me to this song as well as the sound; for me, it draws together and interrogates that which is material and that which can be believed or felt.

Gabrielle Aplin – ‘Start Of Time’

Inspired by an extract of The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot, singer/songwriter Aplin stated that “Start Of Time is having an idea so different and finding someone who shares the same thoughts and beliefs.” The song begins as her ethereal voice flows shyly over elegant guitar notes, and climaxes powerfully towards the end as she gains subtle strength.

Lana Del Rey: Ultraviolence (Album)

Frankly, I had always assumed Lana was overhyped and wouldn’t be very interesting, so I was very pleasantly surprised to hear her distinctively rich vocals. She has the ability to serenade over timeless piano/orchestra ballads such as ‘Old Money’ or sustain powerful consistence over an electric guitar at the right points of ‘Pretty When You Cry’, ‘Shades Of Cool’ and ‘West Coast’. Albeit possibly her darkest album, this vintage-tinged Hollywood performance of romance and rage is just a monochrome showcase of Lana’s ability to paint a story with lyrics and melodies.

AURORA – All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend (Album)

Known by the mononym of her first name, Aurora Aksnes began writing lyrics at the age of 9. It is evident that she is a natural storyteller, for “Running With the Wolves” was written at this time, yet reaches a wise comprehension of engaging with a simpler and often morally gentler animal instinct.

This song’s upbeat nature is continued in tracks such as ‘Conqueror’, ‘Warrior’ and ‘Under The Water’ – the latter of which has a mercurial blend of dark and light elements, from the caution that “Under the water, we die”, to what is possibly one of my favourite lyrics: “Hearts will dream again / Wash away the sins”, implying spiritual cleansing.

The heartbreakingly beautiful ballad ‘Runaway’ soars and floats with grace as it reaches for “a soft place to fall”, which cannot quite be grasped and slips, as sand, through fingers. Aurora’s music has a mythical delicacy that almost doesn’t belong in this world but at the same time is fundamentally human, and deserves more than a small paragraph that barely skims the surface of a few tracks.

Wolf Alice

Wolf Alice’s incredible variety of sounds metamorphoses from the darkest depths of ‘Silk’ to the shoegazing synth-pop oriented daydream ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’. At the end of their second album, the choral delicacy of in ‘After The Zero Hour’ transitions into the cynical rage of its title song ‘Visions of a Life’.

Frontwoman singer-guitarist Ellie Rowsell’s vocal range is essential to this: she handles existential recitation in ‘Sky Musings’; in ‘Lisbon’ has relatively cool control oscillating over one of my favourite instrumental eruptions; and she playfully cackles and yells “You’re a dodgy f****** as well” in the delirium of ‘You’re A Germ’.

I first discovered Wolf Alice when I listened to ‘Blush’ on a bus ride at the start of my first term at uni, where I found myself replaying the track for how Rowsell’s soft intimate singing “It’s all good / You’re allowed to be what you could” blooms over a relaxed indie rock. The way each member contributes is something I’ve regretfully not mentioned (alongside their extensive phenomenon of great tracks), yet their unity makes them an unstoppable driving force: the type of band where each vocalist, guitarist, bassist and drummer are all irreplaceable.

The Japanese House

Amber Bain is the name behind the alternative/indie pop solo project that has released 16 songs across 4 Eps, preserving moments of fragility in vocoder melodies and literary lyrics. A close friend of labelmates The 1975, Matty Healy and George Daniel have often aided Bain’s music, with layering and synth styles reminiscent of their EPs.

Her sound is entirely her own, however, with a theme of water streaming through the lyrics of her earlier releases and sounds that echo the cleansing motion of water, such as in ‘Cool Blue’ where she “recorded the rain and tried to time [her] guitars with the rain”. Like the rain and the colour blue, of an uplifting daydream with the echo of uncertainty is captured.

The moody dynamic of ‘Letter By The Water’ shifts from intricate yet frantic riffs in the verses, which pause in anticipation for the tide of a crashing bass drone in the chorus, while the vocal layering of ‘Still’ and ‘Sister’ drift in and out in heartfelt waves.

A blend of acoustic guitar and deep electronica make two of my personal favourites: the brooding ‘Pools to Bathe In’ and lyrically lighter ‘Clean’, which encapsulates making amends with a friend.

Even in tracks that diverge from the water theme, dreamlike creativity is still a constant: ‘Face Like Thunder’ tells an atmospheric tale of regret, and the sentimentality of ephemeral yet permanent moments in 3/3 features some of her best electric guitar riffs yet.
This article only scratches the surface of some great female artists out there. From the raging to the ethereal, their sounds and talents are – to coin a phrase from a Wolf Alice song – beautifully unconventional.

By Heather Grant

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