Feist’s new album Metals is out this week, and although it’s already getting a slew of good reviews, as we confessed earlier this week, we’ve never been massive fans of the Canadian singer/songwriter. We don’t think she’s terrible, but we do think there are plenty of other great female singer/songwriters out there who are deserving of your attention. In view of this, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to bring together a selection of our favorites — if you like Feist, we reckon you’ll enjoy the work of the artists after the jump. On a related note: what do they put in the water in Sweden?!
There’s something about Frida Hyvönen’s lyrics that reminds us of her compatriot Jens Lekman — the mix of wry humor and unashamed romanticism, perhaps, or a world view that’s somehow both melancholy and starry-eyed. In any case, Hyvönen’s a fantastic songwriter who’s also possessed of a fine voice — she’s a star in her native Sweden, but inexplicably underappreciated beyond its borders. If you’re not familiar with her work, we suggest you get a hold of Until Death Comes and/or Silence Is Wild ASAP.
Another Swede, although you wouldn’t necessarily guess it from her name. We were lucky enough to see Wilson playing an unscheduled set at a garden party in Brooklyn last year, and she was fantastic — her songs drag R&B kicking and screaming into the 21st century, rescuing it from the simpering attentions of R. Kelly and his ilk. The same brassy spirit permeates her records, particularly the fantastic Hardships!, which is as good a collection of killer pop songs as anyone’s made in the last few years, and would have been a huge hit in a world where the charts weren’t full of Auto-Tuned piffle.
She’s probably the best-known artist on this list now, which is a welcome development, because when Sia’s debut solo album Colour the Small One dropped in 2003, it pretty much sank without trace. Back then, she was best known for her guest vocals on the work of middle-ranking UK downtempo duo Zero 7 — now she’s a genuine star, her career catalyzed by the inclusion of “Breathe Me” on the Six Feet Under soundtrack, but still also one of the most endearingly down-to-earth people in the music industry. It’s good to see that sometimes things work out just right.
Another Australian, who’s quietly carved a niche for herself in her home country as a consistently excellent songwriter. Throsby’s voice is warm and understated, and her songs have a way of creeping into your consciousness, subtly commanding your attention rather than demanding it. Her debut On Night, a strikingly reflective and perceptive study of relationships strained and broken, was one of our favorite overlooked albums of the 2000s — since then, she’s released three more full-lengths, one of which (2008’s A Loud Call) was recorded in Nashville with Will Oldham, along with members of Lambchop and The Silver Jews.
The former Rilo Kiley singer has produced two thoroughly worthy solo albums over the last few years, and is now performing with boyfriend Jonathan Rice under the name Jenny & Johnny. Whatever context she’s working in, we are all for anyone who can consistently produce lyrics like “To be lonely is a habit/ Like smoking and taking drugs/ And I quit them both/ But man, was it rough.”
The woman with the most annoying moniker to type in all of music, Merrill Garbus has been going from strength to strength since she signed with 4AD in 2009. Of all the artists on this list, it’s Garbus who diverges furthest from the girl-with-guitar-and-great-songs formula — but for all the esoteric instrumentation and exotic production on her records, they’re ultimately based around strange and wonderful songs.
El Perro del Mar
Back to the Swedes! Why she’s chosen to call herself “The Sea Dog” is something that only Sarah Assbring of Gothenburg, Sweden, can tell you. But whatever she calls herself, she’s yet another fine Scandinavian singer/songwriter, with an ear for a melody and also a deft lyrical touch — we guess they must teach lyrical composition along with English in Swedish high schools, or something.
Like tUnE-yArDs’, Annie Clark’s records work with a wide and varied musical palette — but like tUnE-yArDs, all the exotic production on her albums ultimately serves to enhance the songs, not overshadow them. There’s something of Kate Bush about both Clark’s voice and the sense of musical experimentalism that runs through her records — and as far as we’re concerned, that’s most definitely a good thing.
Perversely, it was last year’s well-received Thao & Mirah album that’s focused popular attention on Mirah Zeitlyn, which is strange, because she’s been ploughing her own furrow in the Northwest and making great records for well over a decade now. With the Thao & Mirah tour done and dusted, we’re hoping another solo album will be on the way soon.
Taken by Trees
It seems only appropriate to end this list by returning to Sweden, although former Concretes singer Victoria Bergsman has been embracing sounds from well beyond the confines of Scandinavia of late. Her most recent record, 2009’s East of Eden, was recorded in Pakistan, and its arrangements have a decidedly subcontinental flavor to them. It’s one of our favorite albums of the last few years, and we’ll be fascinated to see what Bergsman does next. In the meantime, we’re never gonna get sick of this Animal Collective cover.