Autumn is the best season for new music, in terms of sheer volume. Musicians record all winter, road test in the spring, play the hits on summer festival stages, and put out the new material in the fall. To kick off the season, I've chosen nine of the best feminist artists' songs and albums coming out in September or October.
There's disco here, and rock, folk, punk, American blues via Malian Bambara, and more. Let us know what you think, and tell us what you've been listening to this month!
1. The Blow - The Blow
Electro-pop duo The Blow left Olympia for Brooklyn years ago, but the spirit of the Oly DIY scene is all over the band's self-titled newest album, set for release October 1st. Members Khaela Maricich and Melissa Dyne make music that manages to sound well-produced AND like it was recorded in someone's bedroom on a synth keyboard. The pair have spent the last four years performing Songs for Other People, a show about fictional songs Maricich wrote for "a tabloid starlet and singer whose lesbian romance drew celebratory headlines in 2008." The songs, of course, were never meant for the thinly veiled mystery starlet (Maricich went on to open shows by dedicating them directly to LiLo), but for this album. Without the backstory, the album is fun, hand-clapping pop, but with it, it's fun, hand-clapping pop that's trying to tell us something about over-exposure and the impossibility of finding love in the spotlight.
Make It Up by The Blow
2. Escort - "Cabaret"
Escort is a 17-piece (!!) contemporary disco band (!!!!!) from New York who last month released a new single, "Cabaret," to all sorts of fanfare. Deservedly so: lead singer Adeline Michele is a Donna Summer-level disco queen: her voice is warm and sassy —the human response to the mega-machinized instrumentation behind her. The original captures more 70s New York glitz and pomp, but the new Jacques Renault remix brings in some 80s Nintendo-esque effects to push "Cabaret" into nostalgia overdrive. Note also: THE COWBELL.
3. Breathe Owl Breathe - "Silent Movie Reel"
It's been an up-and-down summer for Michigan's Breathe Owl Breathe. They played a fabulous set at Pickathon in August, and then had their van and gear stolen nights later in Berkeley. The good news is that friends and fans have been donating money and instruments to get the band back on their feet and back on the road in time to support Passage of Pegasus, their seventh album, out October 15th. The posts on the BOB website are profoundly, upliftingly grateful. Every ounce of the band's sound is drenched in feeling, too; singer-songwriter Micah Middaugh (a dead sonic ringer for Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg), cellist Andrea Moreno-Beals, and keyboardist Trevor Hobbs may play quiet music, but every gentle moment is ripe with room-filling longing. Let's hope they get back what was stolen from them, and the aches they sing about no longer chase them out of the studio. Listen to the band's Soundcloud here.
4. Kim Lenz and the Jaguars - "Pay Dearly"
Perpetually loathe as I am to tip my hat to the misogynist dudebros at Rolling Stone, they hit the nail on the head when they said, "If Elvis had been a woman, he probably would have sounded just like Kim Lenz." The L.A.-based rockabilly singer and guitarist growls and swings through ballads and barn-burners alike. Her latest album, Follow Me, came out late last month.
Kim Lenz and The Jaguars - Pay Dearly by FanaticPromotion
5. Rokia Traoré - Beautiful Africa
Remember when the World Cup was in South Africa, and Shakira made that horrifying "Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)" monstrosity of a song? Because, you guys, her hips don't lie, and her hips LOVE Africa? OK. Sorry to remind you. But here's the antidote: Malian musician Rokia Traoré is making the REAL odes to Africa that Shakira's hit-making machine couldn't fathom if they tried. Ongoing civil war in Mali has increased Traoré's urgency exponentially—she sent her son to live in France, where she grew up, when Bamako became too volatile early last year—and her heartbreak and unsinkable devotion to her country and continent are breathtaking. For Traoré, there is no "this time" for Africa, to last precisely as long as FIFA wants ad sales. When you're living it, and it's your homeland under attack, EVERY time is for Africa. Listen to the title track below with tissues in hand.
Note: Nonesuch, who put out Beautiful Africa, have provided English translations of the entire album. Read along here.
6. Potty Mouth - "Damage"
When last we heard from Potty Mouth, they were a young band in more ways than one: they'd formed less than a year earlier and they highlighted their inexperience and youth in interviews. They're still a young band (it's only been a year since then!), but the inexperience ship has sailed. The Northampton, MA quartet are still playing the buzzy, low-fi punk that endeared them to us in the first place, but their technical proficiency is indisputable. They deservedly caught the ear of NPR's First Listen series for their latest album, Hell Bent, sealing the "not just a gaggle of punk girls from Massachusetts anymore" deal once and for all, and ensuring that the audience for, as they call it, "four ladies doing what [they] want to do!" is only going to get bigger. We loved you back when, Potty Mouth. GODSPEED!
7. Laura Veirs - "Finister Saw The Angels"
One of several magnificent things about Portland singer-songrwriter Laura Veirs is her consistency. The expansion of her career doesn't take place by jumping genres and experimenting with radical new sounds, it takes place entirely within the house of folk, where she is constantly finding unused rooms and rearranging the furniture. Over the course of her nearly 15-year career, Veirs has never, at least on record, wavered from her keenly observant lyrical eye or her intimate, warm vocal and instrumental style. Last month's Warp and Weft leans heavier on electric guitar than prior records have, and branches out from her usual cream of the PNW crop guest musicians to share vocals with Neko Case and kd lang, but in the center of the louder sound and shinier stars is still Veirs, the stalwart, and one of the best American songwriters working today.
8. Meshell Ndegeocello - "Suzanne"
Meshell Ndegeocello is the kind of confident wherein she can swim in the creative material of others and know that her treatment of it will be vital and excellent in its own right. "Suzanne" is a Leonard Cohen cover, which Ndegeocello included on her 2012 tribute album to Nina Simone, and the just-released video is comprised of photographs sent to her by fans interpreting Suzanne's "place by the river." But the art created is all Ndegeocello's. Her voice is deep and evocative, the instrumentation behind her is buoyant, and the video effects look like something YACHT would come up with. Intriguing-sounding combination? See for yourself.
9. Coco Peila - "Misses Shoot 'Em Down"
Young hip-hop artist Coco Peila makes music that "offers a unique chance for women to avoid choosing between good dance music and a soundtrack that respects them," according to her label. The title track from her new EP, out this month, is exactly that. She identifies as a feminist and a Black Panther, and applies the politics of both to her music and her message. It's unnerving to hear hard hip-hop that is blatantly pro-female, and it's a nerve we hope Peila and others keep hitting.
Photo at top is Khaela Maricich of The Blow performing at the Winningstad Theatre for the 2013 Time-Based Art Festival. Photo by Brian Echon for PICA.