Something I hear all too often from my friends: “I don’t really listen to female artists.” Instead of feeling angry or slighted as a woman, I usually just feel sad for my friends. Though there are many all-male bands I hold dear to my heart, some of my absolute favorites have women heading for them. Expand your horizons and try out some of these femmes fatale.
The Dresden Dolls is a cabaret rock duo consisting of Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione. After putting out four full-length albums, they split, with Palmer embarking on a solo career. Over the years, Amanda “Fucking” Palmer has amassed a cult of personality, culminating in her record-breaking Kickstarter fundraiser for her newest album, Theatre is Evil.
My personal favorite off the album is Lost, a percussion-heavy anthem punctuated by Palmer’s signature piano: forceful and impossible to ignore. The song’s pace swells, taking the lyrics (spunky and heartfelt but not as spectacular as the Bed Song) and transforming them into a catharsis, the otherwise repetitive chorus becoming raw and epitomizing the passion that sets Palmer apart from other performers.
In contrast, The Perfect Fit is a climactic piano-based piece, held together by a smattering of drums. Starting at near-whisper, Palmer gains volume as the lyrics get darker, reaching the venomous “I used to be the bright one, smart as a whip/Funny how you slip so far when teachers don’t keep track of it” before launching into the final crescendo to complete pandemonium.
Nico is best known as the featured accompaniment to the Velvet Underground, but stands alone with a stunning folk repertoire. Her cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s I’m Not Sayin’ is the musical equivalent of skipping through a meadow. The fluid use of strings detracts from the complexity of the orchestration behind her simple tune. This creates a subtle but intriguing accompaniment to an already solid vocal performance.
Hearkening back to her Velvet Undeground days, Nico’s soft, clear voice dominates Femme Fatale, minimal instrumentation necessary to make a compelling performance. Her words reverberate, their languid yet crisp portrayal making the simple imagery of the lyrics truly poetic.
Future Starts Slow is a hazy single off the Kills’ fourth album “Blood Pressures,” complete with a hypnotizing riff and characteristically punchy drums. It’s easy to lose yourself in the rumbling beats, but Alison Mossheart’s throaty vocals outshine Hince’s and cut through to the core of the song.
Cat Claw, on the other hand, is a buried track off their debut album “Keep on Your Mean Side.” Its minimalistic approach contrasts with the higher production value of Future Starts Slow, but the rolling guitar remains, as well as Mossheart’s haughty vocals. Her powerful, fluctuating, tone is demonstrated from the initial, disdainful “..come on, sugar,” to the emotive back and forth “you got it…I want it!” finishing off the piece.
Karen O, the frontwoman of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, has used her sweet yet powerful voice to her advantage throughout her solo career.
This dichotomy is clearly seen in Backass, off Jackass 2’s soundtrack, where she transitions from a gritty warning cry to a delicate serenade and back again. The rattling percussion and taunting chants build to create a reckless atmosphere, a song to be sung at a prison playground.
GO!, a collab with bonafide rockstar Santigold, has the same wild tone, this time with an industrial twist: the echoing beats and pumping synthesizer brash accompaniment to Santigold’s rhythmic leading vocals. Karen O comes in as contrast, her harmonic caterwauling offering some melody to the piece.
Patriarch on a Vespa is equal parts social commentary and controlled chaos. The initial angry static fades into an equally angry rant regarding the role of women in society: “Are we all brides to be? /Are we all designed to be confined?/Buy ourselves chastity belts and lock them/Organize our lives and lose the key…” Emily Haines’s gravelly voice complements the humming synthesizers and raging, rough electric guitar to package a biting criticism of gender roles.
Brie Larson takes over Metric’s Black Sheep as Envy Adams, the lead songstress of The Clash at Demonhead in the graphic novel series/film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. The thudding bass is in sync with equally heavy drums, setting the stage for a power riff that is perfected with Haines’s/Larson’s airy bay. Larson’s showmanship only adds to the sex appeal of this rock aria.
And therein ends the Prospect’s foray into female artists. I hope to have introduced you to a feminine side of music beyond Sarah McLachlan and Nicki Minaj. Of course, if you have a favorite I missed, please enlighten us in the comments below.