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samedi 13 janvier 2007

I can be hypocritical about critics. Roland, a colleague, asked me if I know anything about Joanna Newsom. I've yet to know as much as I will about the harp-playing hippie poet who dislikes it when people call her voice "childlike" once I've listened to 'Ys'. "Hippie", a word Roland chose, was a good one for a new generation of broadly folk musicians whose work can recall that bygone lifestyle and outlook.
The refined orchestration of the new Newsom of 'Ys' lies in wait. I devoured those "Best of 2006" lists, the better to scoff since my head has no such classification system. 'Ys' was almost everywhere and I got it for Christmas. But then I returned to Joanna's 'The Milk-Eyed Mender' and dived into it for nearly a week.
Last year I sought to be soothed, chilled out and comforted by music, but also challenged by musicians who took time to grow on me. Joanna Newsom is sharp and sufficiently à la mode today to live down a flattering "childlike" note I made about her perceptions in July 2005. For now, however, I leave 'Ys' and its long songs amply covered elsewhere: damned by a few as pretentious, esteemed by most as masterly in its poetic and musical daring. It's an unwrapped gift.

Lily AllenLily Allen brings an earthier wit to bear on a cunning musical sense of humour. The young Londoner's "ace lyrics" and vicaciously good pop songs made Marianne delighted to spy the girl's 'Alright, Still' on my shelf. Allen can be spot-on funny about life. Check out the colourful MySpace Lilymusic page. Lily's amusing blogged rant at the New Musical Express about the rag's alleged promotion of women in music conveys the same sense of justice served as some of her songs.

Now I'm going to say ''Redbird' again.
Don't stone the birds, since the name will suffice for a record I've written up amply before. The point is that Heather Nova's songs embedded themselves deep enough to sustain me through good and vile periods. Such albums are super-duper!
So to revive "Sounds great", here are nine more names culled from the little red notebook. When you're too old to talk about having "best friends" any more, you value ones on whom you know you can depend for depth and sustenance, which doesn't mean they have to be heavy.
If you haven't heard of some of these musicians, so much the better:

Alison Brown'Stolen Moments' by Alison Brown. Americana - often acoustic - fine band - bluegrass - harmonies. You may hate the banjo. Or so you think. Until you hear what Alison does with one. Joyous - uplifting - sad - hopeful - virtuoso - inventive.

'Plans' by Death Cab for Cutie, with 'Transatlanticism'. American indie rock - dream pop. They're men. I admit it. Not a woman in sight or in sound. But, my goodness, are they good! Intimate - growing up - thoughtful - gentle - long train journeys.

'Quick Look' by Pina Kollars. Austrian, living in Ireland. Country - rock - folk. A throaty, sometimes percussive voice. Sharp lyrics - angry - yearning - angry - surprising - warm - tight band - enraptured.
A second album, 'Guess You Got It,' released once Pina had got over a break-up that provided material for the first, is less intense, more relaxed. Both CDs are short, but it's about quality, not quantity.

About...' (at Google music)' by Tok Tok Tok. Tokunbo Akinro is Nigerian, living and working in Germany with Morten Klein. Jazz - soul - Fender Rhodes - acoustic. A singer-songwriter's album "about..." everybody's good (and bad) days, racism, love and simply living. Melodious - spartan - heart-warming - funny - thoughtful - relaxing.

'Space Lullabies and Other Fantasmagore' by Ekova. Ambient - dream pop - (other)world. Dierdre Dubois, Californian French, sung intentional nonsense, accompanied by Ekova's Algerian, Iranian and French members. There are real words in there too. It sounds gorgeous. I follow Mlle Dubois's career with fascinated admiration.

'Full Moon in Three' (at CD Baby) by Jennifer Terran. Vocal - piano - bass - electronica - tweaks. 'The Musician' was marvellous, especially on repeated listening. 'Live from Painted Cave' is disarming, heart-breaking and fun. 'Full Moon in Three' breaks new ground. I love it, but have yet to sound all its depths. Dark - terran - outer space - bewitching - a class of her own.

'Solace' by Mandalay. Electronica - dream pop - trip-hop. I have been listening to it for days, interrupting Nicola Hitchcock's light, fabulous vocals only for African and jazz singers to remind me occasionally what planet we live on. Solace - ethereal - reflective - energy - space.
Most of the "bonuses" are selfish travesties of Saul Freeman's soundscapes; boring beats mismatch the voice. The outstanding exception is Nitin Sawnhey's remix of 'Deep Love'; he understands Nicola, who was the only musician in ages to woo me into buying her first solo album immediately.

'Beautiful Collision' by Big Runga. Pop - acoustic - vocal - guitarist/pianist. I didn't know Bic Runga was a New Zealand superstar when I first heard this. When fine lyrics on universal themes soar on a stellar voice, you listen again ... and again. Elegant - adult - relaxing - gentle - happy - sad - sublime.

'Shine of Dried Electric Leaves' by Brazil's Cibelle. An astonishing progression from the eponymous 'Cibelle' album discovered and enjoyed, with Portugal's Mariza, in March 2004 (latter half of entry). Trip hop - bossa (very nova) - modern folk - Latin - electronica. Cibelle catches up with Texas-born "psych folk" musician Devendra Banhart, turned a gentle guru of the New Weird America (Wikipedia) stable. Compulsive - funny - Portuguese (at times) - trippy - clever - innovative - relaxing.

Brisa Roche'The Chase' by Brisa Roché. American, resident in France. Jazz - rock - punk - roots - blues - indeterminate. I mean indeterminate and the woman is seriously good! Quirky - funny - sultry - lively - romantic - suave - smart.


'The Chase' is one of those début albums that may you leave wondering if Roché is a musician still in search of a style of her own, until you acquire a sense of the whole and the musical logic that weaves through her songs.

"I am attached to the physical aspect of singing, the breathing and phrasing, and the storytelling. I also like repetition - in my music, lyrics, in my writing, in all of my projects, there is this driving repetition, interwoven with twists and changes. Between the repetition in melody and words, and the rhythmic act of breathing and singing, there is a very hypnotic angle," Brisa says at MySpace.
There's no predicting what she'll record next, but for my part, a trend is now set. A sixth set of who "Sounds great" has started to take shape and will be eclectic and international. I shall post it in February.
Meanwhile, I hope you like some of this selection and wish you good listening in fine company.

2:21:05 PM  link   your views? []

mardi 9 janvier 2007

May you have a Happy New Year, wherever you may be!
I hope you've rung in 2007 with an optimistic song in your heart and a dream to be realised among your resolutions. Yes, I'm still here, no longer obscured by clouds and under the radar, like some of the stars in my musical firmament seem to be. In the past three months, superb voices have come my way, often enough by exploring the sites I mentioned in my last entry. Likewise, in the past year and more, many pages in the MySpace big bang and some of the musical offerings I've enjoyed at YouTube sustain hope that talented new artists will always find ways of reaching out to broader audiences, while keeping a step ahead of those who want simply to make money off their backs.

For dedicated commitment to the voices of women who remained routinely underrated in lists culled from various publications by the editors at the Metacritic music "best of 2006" page, there's one site I have neglected to mention so far. It's a place where you can spend time in the company of fellow music lovers who mostly take little interest in the popular but boring seasonal game of looking over each other's shoulders to see who's "top of the list".
'The Ectophiles' Guide to Good Music' is an ongoing project that has been lovingly run for several years now by Niele Graham, who modestly lays claim to "fairly narrow tastes, but I like to think they're deep." Narrow? That's not a word that leaps to mind reading the comments Graham himself makes, among a small host of fellow "ectophiles", about some outstanding musicians I would probably never have discovered without the informative and usually constructive criticisms in the guide.
The site also takes an intriguing approach to the ever thorny problem of trying to categorise musicians by genre, when they usually declare themselves extremely averse to being stuffed into little boxes. Neile's genres stick loosely to the main conventional ones you'd find in a store, but I'd still like to be able to walk into a music shop and see the CD shelves giving labels to their content like "Comedic", "Beautiful and Fierce" and even "Ectronica". Don't take my word for it; go have a look for yourselves, like I did, and heck, you'll even find out with the help of potted little definitions what ecto is all about...
The guide, like several other sites listed in the place of honour it joins at the top of my blogroll, is wide-ranging enough to have introduced me to a few musicians from the far shores of the Atlantic who are either little-known in Europe or whose albums are prohibitively costly over here. It does the same in reverse for an eclectic selection of the European and other musicians I enjoy who deserve more renown in the Americas.

This is where I bless the more adventurous souls among those who decide what to sell at the iTunes Music Store in France, because their catalogue frequently nowadays includes at least the main albums of such musicians. Once I put a stop to manic spending sprees, I also decided that CDs remain preferable to downloaded albums. But when the only choice lies between forking out 45 euros or more for a record (even via the marketplace sellers at the likes of Amazon), or getting it for 10 euros at the iTMS, I'd rather pay for the music and forego the artwork and liner notes. You have to be pretty wealthy these days to carp unduly at the quality of the sound you get when your iPod is wired up to the "aux" sockets of a decent home hi-fi system.

"Yes, yes," you may say, "but what of your music writing? When are you going to start doing articles on the individual 'Voices of Women' again?"
I don't know, that's the short answer.
In the fullness of time, that's the longer one. This entry is a fresh start. Often I return from a day's work at the Factory much like I did before, with my ears and mind full of an album and a strong desire to share my enthusiasm and do the background research I enjoy about the people responsible to write them up well. My little red notebook already includes more than 150 names and jottings about them, while occasionally I sit here and update the database on the Mac.
But not yet...
This year, my first priorities must remain to look to my loved ones, making sure I'm there for them, and to keep my health in order to be able to do that. Music has fortunately become as essential to my well-being as it was early in 2006 -- and I have read a good number of fascinating articles as to why that is for so many of us -- but a sizeable part of last year became a very black time. A bleak midwinter on medication to which I'm still adjusting is no time to push my luck!

Somebody lovely gave me Elizabeth Kontamatou's 'Waiting for Spring' for Christmas. The jazz singer's style doesn't altogether suit my prevailing mood and tastes, but I like it well enough to know she'll breeze in very nicely some day the wind changes and the title track of the album sums me up. My restored sense of humour and of life's many absurdities when at work and in other good company are no longer characteristics to be taken for granted. On leaving the office I'm tired enough to realise that it would be unwise to resume former habits and log long and late.
For now, I shall compromise and cheat! There had to be some way of keeping my hand in and letting you know which lovely ladies are lending me a hand of their own, until I feel ready to tell you more about how some of them do it. My solution lies on the left and has done for the weeks since I bumped my "all consuming" -- or sharing tally -- high up the blogroll.

Kate HavnevikI truly would love to detail how one voice there makes me marvel and feel all warm inside, for instance. A classically trained young Norwegian turned punk rocker, then simultaneously ethereal and earthly singer-songwriter, Kate Havnevik proved able to do the most stunning stuff when she moved on from electronic gadgets to find a real string section to fiddle with her glissandos. She could charm the rattles off a snake! But I say no more. Instead, I shall send you to Havnevik's home (or place in MySpace), suggest you go 'So:Lo' or 'Serpentine' as takes your fancy, and seek out for yourself why the 'Melankton' album is called what it is. Then you'll hear why I fancy her myself so much that given a choice between two slightly different 12-song versions of this first CD, I couldn't choose and added an extra track to make 13 my lucky number.
You see, to say more about Kate would get me writing about her work with Guy Sigsworth (Wikipedia) and then I would feel a need to explain why I liked what he does with Imogen Heap so much, though the latter decided in 2005 it was best to 'Speak for Yourself'; that would lead me by a process of association to the multi-talented An Pierlé and White Velvet from Belgium and we would end up whizzing across the ocean to Boston, following a loose cabaret connection, to find ourselves in the arms of The Dresden Dolls and their often wry and amusing 'Yes, Virginia'...
That's a dangerously slippery path, on which I would feel it unjust to write about extraordinary expertise in some musical spheres without paying equal heed to striking achievements in others. I could even -- heaven forbid -- venture to list a top 10 of my own, not all necessarily released in the past year. Then I'd want to make it 20 ... or 60.

An PierléSo here's the deal, along with a concert picture of An Pierlé by Claude Piscitelli to whet an appetite or two.
Let's pretend that my "all consuming" mind really is wrapped round what might grow to 100 albums at once. This wouldn't be so very far from the truth, because the fewer I buy, the more I listen to frequently, which is how it should be, including more than before by the males of the musical species, which is also how it should be. Then, after this entry, I'll lay off for a bit, do what some others with sense do, and turn to "tagging" the music, which I haven't started yet.
If I do this well enough, it will be fun, it will enable me to avoid exhaustion and give you the most helpful hints I can. For now. Bosire in Nairobi wants me to go on logging about music, and I appreciate his faith, and I know B.J. feels I have written about three-quarters of a book on women musicians and even promised to buy it if one day I finish it, but there must be no looking back. Last winter, I got one thing right: it was a season for letting several seeds germinate in my mind, but when some grew there was no gentle flowering, it was a volcanic blast and my system can take no more of those...
Instead, I'll play start playing tag, maybe at too. And I shall make no more snide remarks about how All Consuming sounds horribly capitalist and should be called "All Sharing" because the folks who run the site know this and expect it to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Once I'm up to writing a little more, I hope to get out the little red notebook, but not with a "Best of 2006" in mind. It would be much more agreeable to pick out selections of my discoveries of recent months, regardless of when they were recorded, and say just a little bit about those. Some could be new, like Emily Haines's piano-driven breakaway from the Metric system to land on her feet with the very different 'Knives Don't Have Your Back', but I'm still into time travel too. It was thanks to 'The Ectophile's Guide' that a little packet arrived for me containing a Jane Siberry record, which prompted one of my colleagues to tease, "Going back to the 80s?"
How dull life would be if music wasn't made to last! Meanwhile, I again offer my warmest wishes for 2007 and hope you prosper in health, in peace and in harmony.

9:15:05 PM  link   your views? []

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