In honor of March being Women’s History Month, and with so many fantastic releases coming out in these last few weeks, I couldn’t help but want to highlight some personal favorites – who all happen to be projects fronted by women. The conversation of “women in music” can get frustrating and overwhelming these days, with so much progress still to be made (I wrote an article about that recently.) Yet it’s important to remember that a rising tide raises all boats; that celebrating musicians who happen to share a certain genetic makeup actually does make the world better for all musicians!
So I have not solely grouped the following bands together just to again point out that women are making music – it more so happens to be March and I love what all these women are doing. The following bands are in this list together because they 1. each have recent releases, 2. make a great continuous listen all together, and 3. have created some of the best music so far in 2015. However, I won’t be offended if you are inspired by any of these artists and want to recommend them to the audiophiles of all genders in your life.
Lady Lamb (formerly known as, Lady Lamb The Beekeeper) – After
Nylon magazine has deemed her as having “the weirdest lyrics and the best sound,” which I would have to wholeheartedly agree with. (Although weird lyrics are usually the best lyrics.) The project of Aly Spaltro, Lady Lamb is now two albums old, and growing in popularity fast. On this sophomore release, After, Spaltro explores familiar themes of breakups, heartbreak, family, and figuring out how to understand the world – but in a way that only she can.
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Her musical ability trends towards genius, as she creates layers and elements within sound that lets the listener lose themselves in lush compositions. From full on rocking out to quiet solo moments, she defies a clear genre by melding all the best parts into one. Yet it’s in the simplicity at times that her talent shines most.
Such as in “Milk Duds,” where she makes it clear, “I’d never loved another person / more than I loved you,” and in opener “Vena Cava,” where a modern breakup is defined through both analogy and stark reality: “I can feel how the seams of your ribs / Will separate from the seams of my ribs / I know already how much TV will fail to comfort me in your absence.” Her singles “Billions of Eyes,” and “Spat Out Spit” should be getting more plays on alternative radio stations in the near future (I hope).
The good news for you is that Lady Lamb is on tour right now! And she has this project going where you can buy a pack of Lady Lamb postcards, and one is left intentionally blank and pre-stamped, so that you can make your own art and mail it back to her. How cool is that? She’s even bringing these packs on tour, and they’re free when you buy any of her other merch. Her hope is that she’ll amass enough postcards “to make a big collage of them SO I CAN KEEP IT FOREVER AND WE CAN ALL JUST LOVE EACH OTHER AND LIFE,” as she proclaims on Facebook. Have I mentioned I like this woman, like, a lot?
Lower Dens – Escape From Evil
I first saw Jana Hunter live when she played solo at First Avenue in Minneapolis opening for Sharon Van Etten last July. The poster outside said “with special guest Jana Hunter (Lower Dens),” and I made a mental note to look up the band later. Well of course, it took me half a year, when I caught wind of Escape From Evil via NPR – who did a first listen feature and this great ‘song by song’ exploration of the album, with Hunter’s insights about each tune. If you’re super curious, she’s also doing a Reddit ‘ask anything’ on April 2 @ 1pm EST.
I was intrigued by Hunter’s set that night in Minneapolis, and curious about everyone else’s reactions, with most of the audience present to see Van Etten. But everyone shut up and focused on the one musician on stage, sitting intently with her guitar and computer, playing songs from Lower Den’s upcoming album. I sure hope she played “Société Anonyme” that night, because it’s my favorite song off the album, followed closely by the two singles “Ondine,” and “To Die in L.A.” Hunter admits about the latter, “somebody doesn’t have to be your steady to break your heart,” which is such a truth it hurts.
Although most of Escape From Evil focuses on tough topics of heartbreak, betrayal, depression, and death, there is a definite tone of support and humanity in it. Hunter told NPR that “Ondine” was the first song on this album that the band finished, and “it set a tone for the kind of warmth and physicality we decided to bring to the rest of the music.” Listening to Escape From Evil multiple times now, it remains true to its name – providing an escape for the ears as well as the heart from the bad things in life we all must live through. Within its minimalist rock and electronic emphases, Lower Den’s creates a space to acknowledge undesirable emotions, and to learn and move on from them. It’s shimmery, nostalgic, and futuristic all in one. And Hunter is a force to be reckoned with.
Annalibera – Nevermind I Love You
Self-described as “twang-shoe chambergaze,” Annalibera was founded by Anna Gebhardt in 2010. In the years since, she relocated to Des Moines, Iowa, where guitarist Ryan Stier (The River Monks, Extravision) and bassist Phil Young (TIRES) joined the group, and drummer Nicholas Naioti (MR NASTI) joined during tour in 2013. During my college radio days in Iowa, I came across Stier’s group The River Monks, and being so impressed by that work, I made myself familiar with all other projects he was a part of. However, I moved to Minneapolis after graduation and all but forgot about Annalibera in the following years, until my Facebook exploded the other week with announcement of their self-produced debut LP, Nevermind I Love You, released last week (March 24th) on Sump Pump Records.
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Turns out that Gebhardt is a classically-trained singer and pianist, and when combined with the excess of talent that is Stier, Young, and Naioti, this band has more skill and performance experience than Iowa can handle. Yet their extreme love of the Midwestern scene has kept them there, creating a hub of quality music in central Iowa that rivals (dare I say it) Minneapolis. This concentration of musicianship is evident in Nevermind I Love You, with 8 tracks that are more like one long, elegant composition. From the slow opening ballad of “Moving Song” to the catchier single “Black Cat White Cat,” to the final waltz “Honesty,” Gebhardt makes it clear that this heartbreak is going to be difficult, it may as well as be damn gorgeous to listen to.
I could compare Annalibera to the likes of Seattle’s Deep Sea Diver, or even Bjork herself, but there is something so unique to this sound; like it was made just for you, like it’s always been meant to exist. The orchestral additions are seamless, the mixing effortless, and yet the emotion so raw, the story highlighted above all. I found myself listening to “Vermillion” over and over last week, merely because I didn’t want to leave the motivated yet somehow mellow mental state the waltz had set me in. And I hit repeat on “Honesty” about four times just to listen to Gebhardt’s ethereal and operatic vocals one more time, three more times. If you’re lucky enough to live in or near the state of Iowa, you won’t have too much trouble catching Annalibera live. I’m currently working on making my own luck, and hope it doesn’t take me years.
Anna Gebhardt photo courtesy of Joni Jones.