Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How To Lose Your Female Fanbase In 7 Easy Steps

I'm expecting to cop a lot of flak for my latest entry, in fact I was debating for a little while whether to post it at all. But it's something i've really wanted to write and put quite a bit of work into.... so I've decided to go ahead with it and let my readers' reactions be my guide.
In an effort to pre-empt any scorn, may I defend myself and say that the aim is to still celebrate great new music, and yes - i am a male - sue me. Why all the controversy? well...


While it may look like a sneaky FHM style series of pin-ups, this list actually celebrates a new wave of female singer-songwriters in the tradition of Joni Mitchell, Bjork, Tori Amos, Kate Bush and PJ Harvey. Women who, while being physically beautiful, were also impossibly talented, courageous and creative without having to compromise or exaggerate their femininity. Unlike whomever the pop-starlet-of-the-week may be, there is much, much more to them than a big single and a sexy video. So the following list of females comprises those, who given time, will join the ranks of the names above and other great rock gals of history - or, at the very least, will be remembered for more than just their looks.

Have I undermined my credibility? Want to see a list that caters to the female contingent? Think there's something wrong with my ears (and eyes)? Then comment away dear friends, comment away.

Benjamin Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie announced earlier this year that he was getting married, that he was to be wed to Zooey Deschanel surely split males 50/50. There was none more deserving of Ms. Deschanel than indie royalty such as Gibbard, but at the same time most guys were just plain jealous.
Zooey Deschanel is probably better recognised as an actor than a singer, but she's found greater success (and credibility) as one half of She & Him with M. Ward than she has funnymen's love interests (Elf, Yes Man, (500) Days Of Summer). With her piercing eyes and flexible bob she seems to tap effortlessly into a retro-chic; as well as looking strikingly similar to faux-lesbian pop star, Katy Perry. Whether she continues to carry her career on the beauty of her looks over the beauty of her voice is to be seen, but one thing's for sure - don't they make a cute couple?

6. Patience Hodgson (The Grates)
In a band that thrives on kook, energy and cuteness, lead singer Patience Hodgson is easily the kookiest, most energetic and cutest. While she may have stolen a few tricks from Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), namely crazy stage dancing and an extensive wardrobe of zany costumes, she seems to do it in her own way. She is the bouncy, effervescent centrepiece of their live shows and an endearing little sprite in her promotional duties (i can empaphise with Sam Simmons in this clip). Despite her effortlessly quirky lyrics, she's got a great voice and presence that really pulls The Grates' otherwise disparate looniness together, and you can't help but singalong.

5. Amber Cofman (Dirty Projectors)
The talent:
Dirty Projectors - Stillness Is The Move
Dirty Projectors - Two Doves
Dirty Projectors - Knotty Pine (feat. David Byrne)

The beauty:

Unlike others on this list, Amber Cofman is not a solo artist nor the frontwoman of a band, she is actually an integral component of current indie darlings Dirty Projectors. Still, her talent shines through as both a guitarist, and one-third of their beautiful vocal harmonies of the band's sound. One of the greatest moments of Bitte Orca, and the only one to share composing duties with lynchpin Dave Longstregth, is her song Stillness Is The Move. Hell she even wrote a song that impressed Bjork enough to join them for a one-off performance. That's all the credibility you need in my book.

4. Chan Marshall (Cat Power)
The talent:
Cat Power - The Greatest
Cat Power - He War
Dirty Three w/ Chan Marshall - Great Waves

The beauty:

Chan Marshall aka. Cat Power rose to fame due to a series of sleeper hit records and an underground buzz calling her the female-Dylan. There was a strange fascination about her painfully shy live performances too - crying, fudging her songs, and even leaving abruptly. But they did little to undermine her credibility and her obvious creative artistry.
With her awkward years behind her, she has blossomed into a brutally honest artist who is a captivating performer and an excellent interpreter, proven by her two cover records. Her appeal manages to gulf many divides, somehow managing to encapsulate a svelte, smouldering beauty with the spirit of rock'n'roll and a rebellious attitude. Even when she committed a music sin by becoming the face of Chanel she managed to do it without a chorus of naysayers chiming 'sell out.' Maybe everyone is just too smitten with her feline charms.

3. Lily Allen

The talent:
Lily Allen - The Fear
Lily Allen - Not Fair
Lily Allen - Never Gonna Happen

The beauty:

I didn't really go for Lily Allen when she first came round, she seemed like a cheeky starlet who was riding the wave of her MySpace buzz and tabloid controversy to get her way to the top. It's only when I stopped judging and started listening, in particular to her second album It's Not Me, It's You, that i realised that her media persona was all part of her personality.
Here's a girl who, despite appearances, is whipsmart and really just won't play the media game. If she seems like a controversy-magnet it's only because she gets into trouble doing exactly what she wants to do. She's sexy and sassy, with the media eye obsesed over her - and she knows it.
Her music says much about her talents, a writer who's disarming honesty is at once both humourous and realistic. I doubt there'll be a better lyric this year than Not Fair's second verse "Oh, I lie here in the wet patch in the middle of the bed/I'm feeling pretty damn hard done by/I spent ages giving head."
It's clever, funny and silly - demonstrating a woman who knows not to take the whole pop star thing so seriously. Like a female James Bond, men want her and women want to be her.

2. Jenny Lewis

The talent:
Rilo Kiley - Portions For Foxes
Rilo Kiley - Breakin' Up
Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue
Jenny Lewis - Godspeed

The beauty:

Back in 2005, when Jenny Lewis 'went solo' with Rabbit Fur Coat it signaled an artistic shift for the red-haired indie queen. While her day job as lead singer/guitarist/and co-writer for Rilo Kiley is nothing to be sniffed at, her first solo record found her satisfying her urge to be an alt-country star. And she succeeded, even bringing some of that vibe to the following Rilo Kiley album Under The Blacklight.
Last year's Acid Tongue merely further cemented her position as a female artist with 'the package': she looked and sounded great while writing her own tunes and managing her own creative persona. It's important to note, that like most on this list, she doesn't take herself too seriously (she even dolled up as the pink power ranger once).
There remains a precarious tension however as to what she'll do next, continue her career as solo artist, or continue to push herself as the face and voice of Rilo Kiley. Either way, it's a textbook win-win situation.

1. Natasha Khan
(Bat For Lashes)
The talent:
Bat For Lashes - Daniel
Bat For Lashes - Prescilla
Bat For Lashes - Moon & Moon
Bat For Lashes - Sad Eyes
Bat For Lashes - Pearl's Dream
(Boy, i was hard-pressed not to just put up the entire tracklist of her two albums)

The beauty:

I'm in love with Natasha Khan.
Head-over-heels, giddy as a schoolboy, secret crush, long flowery letters, 'no you hang up first' in-love with Natasha Khan. Now, while I must admit she hasn't crowned this list because she's uneasy on the eyes (she's gorgeous), but the reason i'm so stupid for her is that more than any other artsit represnted here, or any others in recent times, she best personifies everything I enjoy about female musicians.
At the start of this rant I mentioned how this list was a small tribute to great artists like Joni Mitchell, Bjork et. al. Well, Natasha Khan, in her kooky-tribal, electro-balladeering, alt-edge-hobo rock outfit Bat For Lashes captures something of the spirit of all those artists and presents it in a thrilling new way, which is also, ironically, entirely her own.
Now permit me to go all jealous boyfriend... I want to make it clear, before the whole damn blogosphere claims they discovered her first, that i've made these comparisions and sung her praises before almost two years ago when she first debuted. And she's only gone from strength to strength since.
Bat For Lashes extends past the music, to a fruitful array of visuals that portray Khan as so effortlessly cool and mystical. It also allows her the opportunity to raid the dressing-up box to indulge in a flexible amount of imagery that includes punk chic, tribal nativity, witch, hippy, nature's child, chanteuse, girl-next-door - you name it. Chances are Khan has brooched it in her amazing promo shoots.
So in no short amount of words, that's why i'm in love with Natasha Khan. Because i'm in love with her music and her musical identity, and in love that's she's in love with it too.


  1. The Sam Simmons/ Patience interview is hilarious.
    Great blog Alister James.

  2. Brillaint blog Alister James.
    Glad I nailed number one before viewing..

    A facinating insight xx pix

  3. needs more Newsom!

  4. I like it Al but where is Laura Marling..?

  5. A distinct lack of Laura Marling and Joanna Newsom cry the faceless!
    Well, sorry it's been so long to reply, but the answers are quite simple.
    Laura Marling's singing, on her debut especially, and phrasing remind me too eerily of someone i knew from high school who i no longer like. So tough to love. I'm trying to get to her seoncd album though.
    Well the sad fact is that while she's a maverick/genius/femme of the first order - I just don't think she's that beautiful. She's not ugly, but I don't thinks she's as beautiful as she is talented. It's an uneven keel there.
    Sorta answered?

  6. Not a Fiona Apple fan Al? I did note a polite silence when I played her to you a couple of times. Probably best known for one big single with a sexy video, nevertheless there's talent to burn and looks to die for.

  7. Amber Coffman (with two Fs) doesn't sing on Two Doves, Angel Deradoorian does.

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