The International Women’s Day is as good occasion as any to point out that women create an awful lot of amazing sounds – a simple fact many people seem to forget.
Translation: Aleksandra Szkudłapska
I recently came across a summary of 2018 in music compiled by a popular magazine. Out of eight people selecting the best records, there was only one woman. Out of 20 albums, only two were made by women. Are there too few women listening to music? Too little music made by women to choose from? That really got me thinking (but don’t ask me about the magazine’s title). I can’t escape the impression that end-of-year summaries and music writing in general often passes by important records made by women.
This is why I decided to use the International Women’s Day as an excuse to offer my subjective selection of the most interesting female artists who have released music in recent months – or are about to do so. This is not a special series on women’s music, as that’s something you should listen to on an everyday basis, and not just once a year. Some of the artists are more involved politically, others not so much, but all have their original musical language and it is definitely worth paying attention to these amazing personalities.
Siksa “palemosty nielegal”
Having released one of the best albums of last year, Stabat Mater Dolorosa, followed by a musical-video-art based on the record, Siksa then shared online a 25-min EP palemosty nielegal. Musically, she uses CSSABA’s album (alter ego of Nihil of Furia, among others) created almost a decade ago.This is heavy, uneven, and often raw electronic music, which coincides with Alex’s bitter words about her home town of Gniezno, the childhood spent there and, it seems, the only good decision: to escape. She delivers the words in a very melodic way, more related to rap than her usual punk screams.But in settling her scores, she remains convincing and evocative.
Tierra Whack “Only Child”
In 2018 she still worked as a doorwoman, until at the end of May she released Whack World, a 15-minute album, where each song lasts exactly 60 seconds (and each clip has a video). In the era of Instagram and short attention spans, she hit the bull’s eye: in this condensed form, Whack presented an original take at R’n’B, rap and contemporary electronica, singing about everyday issues, relationships, and even venturing into social subjects. In mid-February, she released “Only Child”, where – while settling scores with her ex – she also raps about feminism and politics (All men should be feminists, Donald Trump fucks immigrants). And she keeps uploading new songs to her stream – a sign that record no. 2 is in the works?
Divide & Dissolve “Black Supremacy”
Music without vocals can be political too, as we recently found out from Jim McHugh of Sunwatchers. Saxophonist and guitarist Takiaya Reed and drummer Sylvie Nehill seem to share his outlook: as Divide & Dissolve, they play mighty doom metal, skilfully and consistently building an engaging, dark form, peppered with quasi-jazz elements. Not only is their music evocative, but they always underline their social involvement: to bring down the white supremacy, still dominant in the U.S. (so the title is quite cheeky). The video to “Resistance” was really bold too: the artists spilled a urine-like yellow liquid on statues of colonizers – a gesture that outraged many right-wingers to the extent YouTube took it down (but luckily later reinstated it).This duo is also really powerful live, and are currently working on a new album.
Frk. Jacobsen “Thin Dry Sticks”
Frk. Jacobsen is the moniker of Anja Jacobsen, drummer, member of Selvhenter and Copenhagen’s music collective Eget Værelse. On Thin Dry Sticks (the title of both the song and album), Jacobsen plays drums and sings, delivering with her band a record packed with melodious, rhythmical songs spanning pop, post-punk and tropicalia. There’s place here for evocative drumming and synthesizer swirls, but also for a narrative about being a mother and daughter, experiencing both birth and death. Frequently mixing the abstract with the easy-listening, Frk. Jacobsen is keen to experiment and combine pathos with humour.
Amirtha Kidambi Elder Ones “Decolonize the Mind”
Amirtha Kidambi’s Elder Ones, the first project she actually fronts, formed in 2017. Holy Science is informed by free-jazz and the Carnatic tradition – the oldest tradition of improvised music – presented by Kidambi, along with her solid line-up (Max Jaffe, Nick Dunston, Matt Nelson), in an intriguing and fresh form, also live (she plans to visit Europe in May). The artist is vocal on a number of topical social and political issues, such as the racist system still in place in the U.S., police brutality or the Black Lives Matter movement – one of her works is dedicated to Eric Garner, killed in a chokehold by an NYPD officer. Last year, Kidambi sang at Mary Halvorson’s brilliant album Code Girl, and another Elder Ones record is set to be released in spring. “Decolonize the Mind” is one of four tracks to be included on the album that will bear the very poignant title From Untruth.
700 Bliss “Cosmic Slop”
Moor Mother quickly gained notoriety for her peculiar musical language: serving a unique blend of coarse noise on the one hand (Mats Gustafsson and Joe McPhee were apparently blown to pieces by one of her gigs), and on the other, a radically political message through her Black Quantum Futurism project. 700 Bliss is the result of her cooperation with the producer Haram – noise is mixed here with pulsating, ornamental beats, and the whole oozes a pleasant and smooth sound. This is markedly different to the solo output of both artists, who nevertheless gain a common platform to make their stand here – in their own words, spas are informal meeting places of femmes, so they’re saying whatever and however they want.
Adia Victoria “The Needle’s Eye”
Adia Victoria wants to make the blues dangerous again, feeling that it has to an extent lost its original dimension. Silences, her second album, which shares the title with a Tillie Olsen book, talks about fear, love, artistic compromise and female determination. The record, produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner, owes a lot to the roots and sound of the blues, but in terms of production it sometimes even ebbs towards pop, not least through the meticulously polished sound, multitude of instruments, and overall mood (in spite of the occasional gloom). On the record, Victoria sounds more European than American, which – if anything – only adds to her mercurial charm.
“Pop is exotic to me”, said Lafawndah once in an interview. Given that she grew up in an Egyptian-Iranian family in Paris listening to non-Western music and spent a long time living in Mexico, where she fell in love with salsa and cumbia – can you really be surprised? Hers is a very original take at pop: on the one hand, she weaves in Middle Eastern sounds and Caribbean beats, on the other, meticulous, almost overblown production plays a huge role in her music, strongly anchoring it in the club scene. She also has a unique collaboration with Midori Takada under her belt, which last year materialised in the form of Le Renard Bleu. “Daddy” announces her debut album Ancestor Boy, set to be released later in March.
Angel-Ho sparkles and bombards you with ideas like David Bowie or Grace Jones once did. Splendour is mixed here with costumes, colourful choreography and a radical message about carnality and sexuality – the artist is a self-proclaimed ‘trans goddess’. She made her first steps in the art world (music, performance and theatre) a few years back, and her electronic sound is as far removed from the mainstream as can be – intense, diverse, opulent, and yet pulsating with raw dance beats. The artist plays with her voice and body through various eye-catching outfits and multi-coloured, complex set designs. Her music is equally unconventional, striking and intriguing.
Ewa Justka “I Think I’m Having a Panic Attack”
Ewa Justka may just about be the most uncompromising artist hailing from Poland at the moment. Her music takes no prisoners: it’s a radical onslaught of multi-layered sound generated on homemade synths. New York Haunted released her EP late last year, and we can already celebrate a fresh arrival: the new EP is even more complex, overwhelming, and precisely planned. Sonic soundscapes intertwine with piercing, acid synthesizers (the title is Acid on Acid for a reason), and everything builds up and interplays here. Justka’s multi-layered ideas are a rich sonic blast directed at the listener, inviting to exploration.
Maja S. Ratkje “Sjå, Åmioda – og ikke en lyd kom mig fra strupen”
Maja Ratkje has been crossing musical borders for years, being involved in a number of projects spanning electronic, acoustic and vocal (or rather voice-based) music. Sult, her most recent album, was created as a musical score for a ballet performance of the same title. To this end, Ratkje created a huge instrument out of PVC tubes, bass strings, glass percussion and wind machines. In a nutshell: a modified pump organ. She sings here, too. The result is in equal parts simple and striking, toned down and rich in the variety of sounds she is able to generate on her instrument, informed by minimalism, film music, subtle and catchy melodies.
Bitsy Knox & Roger 3000 “Om Cold Blood”
Om Cold Blood is an album that calmly floats on the surface. Nothing is clearly defined here, and the long compositions are far removed from song-like structures. Rather than singing, Bitsy Knox creates a colourful narrative using spoken word, which builds a complex and interesting story against the background of delicate guitars and occasional synthesizers or percussion instruments. First came the performance, where the title poem gained a musical score composed by Roger 3000, and then the idea turned into a fully-fledged release. These are stream-of-consciousness stories that comment on the surroundings, pop culture, and even, in a slightly abstract way, on the passing of time. Om Cold Blood really grows on you with its placid, intimate atmosphere, humour and a flaneur streak.